The repercussions of the telenovela and the influence of the viewer amplified by social media and interactive platforms
Even before the television set connected to the internet - or to the video game - the act of changing channels, turning switches on and off or performing tasks while a programme is being broadcast, among other practices, corroborates the arguments that the viewer is not and has never been passive. Moreover, there is no passivity in a viewer that relates the television text to their own experiences, readings and within their historical and social context, because every interpretation process is subjective and active. The understanding of an active audience can be mistakenly associated only with the fan figure, with the notion that this is the viewer who interacts with the work ostensibly, producing content, for example. As already observed, the active audience engages with the story emotionally, associating the telenovela, for example, with secondary and tertiary texts and interacting in various dimensions. Fiske (1987) remarked that there is a negotiation process between the content proposal and the viewer’s position. For him, in this negotiation, the power lies with the public.
TV Globo’s Customer Service Center (CAT) was created in the 1980s. Until 2020, the viewer could contact TV Globo directly by telephone; only after 2000, by email as well. According to Oguri et al. (2009), among the viewer’s suggestions are errors in scripts or production and the inadequacy in the approach of topics connected to associations or entities. CAT also receives public statements with criticisms, compliments, suggestions, complaints and questions and for varied information about the programming schedule. The vast majority of viewers interact through social media. Since 2011, TV Globo has kept a corporate page on Facebook, www.facebook. com/RedeGlobo/, with the following message:
This page is a place for our audience. Comments, suggestions, criticisms, and compliments are welcome. We need, however, to have certain rules. We will not accept spam, chain letters, or inappropriate content. We also reserve the right to remove any posting or other inappropriate material.
The page had approximately 14 million followers as of June 2020. The network has had a profile on Twitter since 2008 with 12.3 million followers,
2.81 million subscribers on YouTube and 10.4 million followers on Insta- gram, all as of June 2020.
Nevertheless, until 2020, the station maintained the call centre for those who still preferred this means of contact. These interactions do not appear publicly on social media profiles of the broadcaster; but CAT needed to share the information. During the 2015-2016 Malha^ao - Sonhos/Young Hearts - Dreams season, CAT contacted us, the authors, to report a message that had thrilled the attendant and her supervisor. The message was about a plot, secondary to the main story, of a severe and determined teacher named Lucrecia, who raised her troubled teenage daughter alone and discovers she has breast cancer, and an unexpected fragility takes over her life in an overwhelming way. For a few months, the narrative followed the discovery, denial, treatment and overcoming of the character and her family. The fight against the disease throughout the season had numerous reactions among spectators. Here is the message from a viewer received by CAT on 10 April 2015:
I am a big fan of Young Hearts! Yes, I am 26 years old, and I’ve seen every season, even with criticism, for some say I’m too old to watch. Well, I have seen all the stories possible, but today’s scene was profound for me, even though it was already a subject spoken of earlier. It’s been 17 years since my mother had cancer, and a year ago it came back hard. Four months ago, my mother had surgery to remove her left breast; it was a heavy day. And today, I revived, in Young Hearts, that day but in a lighter way. Anyway, the authors, as much as they have already heard this, should be happy to be able to portray something so painful in a light way and with endless love. Congratulations to the artists who gave their souls to this role, because it is necessary. They say that “art imitates life,” but well, I think it is art that helps us face life.
This message is an example of what Fiske (1987) analyzed as a vertical intertextual relationship, in which, starting from the primary text of the telenovela, a viewer produced a tertiary text relating the narrative to her personal experience. As an author, I recorded a statement to be sent to the spectator, as did Helena Fernandes, the actress who played Lucrecia, thanking her for the message. Besides, we paid a quick tribute in one of the characters’ scenes, quoting part of the message as if it were from a friend of Lucrecia’s.
However, another scene generated more reactions in the plot of Lucrecia’s struggle against breast cancer: the one in which actress Helena Fernandes does a breast self-examination, naked from the waist up, in front of the mirror. We planned the scene to air precisely in October, when the worldwide movement Pink October occurs, to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of breast cancer and to share information about the disease.
The comments on social media during the programme reflected extreme and opposing positions. While some criticized or mocked nudity in the late afternoon in a telenovela for a young audience, others supported the initiative. Also, perhaps due to the reactions on social media, this scene got a high response on blogs and websites specializing in television criticism, texts that would be, according to Fiske (1987), secondary. Among them, Noti- cias da TV/TV News, a website linked to the UOL News portal, one of the main and most popular in the country, published an article entitled “Globo displays breasts in Malhaqao at 17h24 and shocks viewers” (Castro, 2014). In the article, Daniel Castro writes that the scene “impressed viewers on social media,” but acknowledges that the indicative rating allows nudity in the afternoon provided it has no sex appeal. The article Daniel Castro wrote on the scene of the self-exam in Malhaqao!Young Hearts is open to comments: the primary text, the telenovela, led to the secondary text, criticism, which provided an encouraging environment for tertiary texts, which are the viewers’ comments. To participate, one must register on the website, share personal data and supposedly publish their real name. Nevertheless, many participants use fictitious names, circumventing the identification system. Furthermore, as the article was only published the following day, the comments were not written directly after viewing the scene, like on Twitter. Even though the answers are more elaborate, there was also a polarized response, as on Twitter: Valmir Fabio Versolato, who identifies himself as a lawyer and musician, found it absurd that nudity still shocks anyone in the 21st century; Daniel Lindenberg, from the northern state of Piaui, argued that teenagers, in his opinion the primary audience of the programme, do not care about breast cancer and that they probably had another reading of the scene of the self-exam; Tina Oliveira Bortuluci revealed that she had breast cancer, and discovered it precisely by doing a self-exam. She made a point of clarifying that, for her, it was not a sex scene. However, Daniel Lindenberg pointed out that if a woman showing her breast is allowed to be a campaign to prevent cancer, then “How about a man examining his PENIS for prostate cancer at five in the afternoon in Young Hearts? It is for a good cause.”
Studying this vertical intertextual production is a way to access meanings of this circulation and mobilization. For example, why does this scene - which supposedly contains no sexual bias - bother people so much? Because of the interaction between the telenovela and society and the conflicts of the present day. Morals, ethics and political polarization are some of the issues that arise. As Sibilia (2008) ponders, what is obscene in nudity also changes according to the historical moment, and today we witness conflicting forces and movements of advancement and setback. Kenneth Clark (1987) proposes that there are necessarily two different ways of understanding and defining nudity. Nude would be the nudity of the ideal form, the classic inspiration of the Greek model. Naked, for Clark, would be the standard, bare, artistically unrepresented human body. It is the obscene condition of nudity.
Even though the self-exam scene of this narrative had more reactions on social media and specialized blogs, as an author, I only chose to absorb the viewers’ contribution through CAT into the telenovela. Up to this day, in a telenovela on TV Globo, unless there is a real error, for example, a wrong credit for a song, or risk of prosecution with solid reasons, or to the indicative rating, the author has the final choice.
Fiske was Henry Jenkins’ professor. Jenkins is one of the leading authors discussing the growing power of participatory television audiences, whose opinions and productions circulate and resonate in social media (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins et al., 2013, 2016). According to Jenkins, Ford and Green (2013), the new interactive tools and platforms enable audiences to consume content initially produced for television and produce new content from it. The viewer currently manifests his or her opinion about audiovisual content in different social media, participates in discussion groups, and produces content derived from characters and narratives with unprecedented immediacy. The question is whether these opinions rhave had a higher resonance recently to the detriment of the influence the viewer has always had on telenovelas, expressed through focus groups or ratings, or access to customer services.
For Jenkins, Ito and Boyd, the content-producing fan universe is born out of fascination and some frustration: “If you weren’t fascinated, you wouldn’t continue to engage as a fan. If you weren’t frustrated, you wouldn’t continue to rewrite and reinvent” (2016). For Lopes and Lemos (2019), it is from the moment that the viewer begins to get emotionally involved with the plot and to create deep bonds with fiction that he becomes a true fan: “This fan will tend to explore as much as the production offers, he will know the characters and the direction of their stories” (Lopes and Lemos, 2019). For these authors, at some point, the fan becomes a producer himself when he realizes that the plot can be expanded, either through his personal experiences or shared experiences in fan communities and social media. The production of content by fans, the amplification of the old “word of mouth,” with circulation in social media and interactive platforms is a phenomenon of the present, but academics differ on the real power of this connected audience.
Exchanges between the viewer and the broadcaster - or the content producers - have always existed through the history of television, but social tools have deepened and amplified this practice. By researching public participation in Brazilian telenovelas since the 1950s, using specialized magazines and letters to TV stations and actors, Baccega et al. observe the transformation of the telenovela’s audience:
In a way, the study commented here confirmed the assumption that blogs, social media, and other digital environments would represent a space of expansion of behaviour that began at a time when readers columns in specialised (print) magazines and fan-clubs were already crucial mediators of the fictional-symbolic/daily/imaginary relationship.
(Baccega et al., 2015)
Baccega et al. (2015) also study the supposed increase in the importance of the viewer in Brazilian television. For researchers, today’s audience acts as a consumer of media and products marketed along with narrative content through advertising or merchandising. The relationship between fan cultures and consumer culture mechanisms is also observed by Hills (2002), as fans are always consumers. The scholar notes that fans are no longer seen as annoying eccentrics, but rather as loyal consumers to be courted. The definition of a fan differs from author to author, and Hills (2002) refers specifically to fans of serials with fragmented audiences. In this book, we consider fans to be all those who maintain an affectionate relationship with the work; it is necessary to note that only a portion of these fans devote time to circulating their opinions on social media and producing content for participatory platforms.
Shirky (2010) builds a paradigm through his research of this fan participation. It is a pyramid in which few produce much content for many, contrasting with the concept of a more horizontal participation culture proposed by theorists such as Jenkins (2006), Jenkins et al. (2013) and Jenkins, Ito and Boyd (2016). For Jenkins et al. (2016), the culture of participation is one in which democratic values and diversity in all aspects related to the interaction between participants are accepted, taking into account that we are all able to make decisions, collectively or individually, and that we can express ourselves in different forms and practices. It is a culture with few barriers to expression, artistic production and engagement, which supports the creation and sharing of this creation, and a balance in which the most experienced teach the less experienced. Members of participatory culture believe, according to Jenkins, that all contributions are significant and that there is a social connection between them. Regardless of the degree of participation, given that advertisements support the business model of corporate television, the audience has always been relevant; however, the significant dedication of some fans who amplify the potential for the resonance of a show naturally interests broadcasters. Jenkins et al. (2016) note that there is a tension between this fan culture and the industry, from which fans get the content that is relevant to them. For the authors, fan communities and other content producers are struggling to gain more access to distribution and circulation.
There are several fan blogs and profiles on different social media dedicated to the narratives of telenovelas, recording new stories, characters and events and comparing them with the previous ones. Baccega et al. (2015) note that most of them remain amateurs, although they may have tens of thousands of followers. Telenovelas have always received attention from the specialized media in Brazil, but social tools increase the importance of amateur commentators. Sergio Santos, for example, is a biologist who is also an amateur critic, and his Twitter profile (@zamenza) has approximately 84,000 followers as of June 2020. He also writes for his blog and keeps profiles on other social media without as much popularity. Recently, fan clubs and amateur critics like Sergio Santos are part of the communication strategy for the launch of a new telenovela. They can be invited to a press conference or be part of an online event.
Fans produce content because of the affection they have for the work, and it is this affection that makes them seek more content produced by their peers and also by the station. Most content produced by the station requires little public participation, but there are several examples of transmedia actions in which public participation is essential: either in voting or in the production of content for the programme and crowdsourcing.
About this creative ecosystem around the telenovela, Fechine and Figue- iroa observe: “The interactional universe triggered by the project is not limited to the strategies proposed by the producers and, therefore, is not entirely under their control” (2015). This universe would involve both actions that are either an expected “response” of consumers to the convocations of producers and activities that, coming from these consumer- producers, are unexpected and even “deviate” from their objectives. The telenovela Deus Salve о Rei/God Save The King (2018) by Daniel Adjafre, for example, invited fans to participate in the production in various ways: by visiting the studios, getting to know the actors, being part of workshops about the show and even entering the scene as extras (Gshow, 2018). There was a tacit understanding between the network and these fans that they would produce content from the experience that would help promote the telenovela. There is no way to control what fans share; however, they knew that the broadcaster could deny them that opportunity in the future. According to Jenkins, Ito and Boyd, producers seek to control this engagement for their interests. “Participation implies some notion of affiliation, collective identity, membership, but beyond that, we have much to figure out if we’re going to continue to apply this framework to contemporary digital culture” (Jenkins et ah, 2016). The use of a large broadcast of content produced by fans is questionable ethically, since, on the one hand, we have amateurs and on the other hand, corporate companies. However, both get what they want: the network gets publicity and fans use content that belongs to the station, such as characters and plots, as raw material for their independent productions.
Although the audience is a guide to the longevity and integrity of a telenovela, new social tools and technologies that increase the circulation of content produced by producer-fans - a minority - do not currently influence the massive audience of daily television dramaturgy. Thus, in the specific case of the telenovela, they do not exert a significant influence on the product. However, this does not mean that these contributions cannot enrich the telenovela or that this scenario cannot change if the daily drama becomes a product of a fragmented audience and the television business model changes.
In their chapter in a book coordinated by Maria Immacolata de Vassalo Lopes, Baccega et al. conclude that “[w]hat becomes increasingly clear is the importance and, we would say, the strength of the viewer-receiver, even if eventually only a fan in the economy of the cultural media industry” (2015). On the other hand, Stycer (2016), Folk a de S. Paulo researcher and critic, considers that this research by Baccega et al. is limited, pointing out that “there is still no way, in the digital universe, to have a clear idea about who are the participatory fans, those who vote in polls, post comments on blogs, share links on social media.” He notes: “there are different groups, with multiple interests, acting amid digital anonymity. In the case of television programming, it is interesting to notice the movements that these fans (or ‘militants’) make both in defence of each other and the effort to disqualify rivals” (Stycer, 2016). Thus, he justifies the fact that young actors, popular on social media, get votes in awards with a popular vote. It is the mobilization of fan clubs and not a picture of what the “people” think. “The results, different from each other, have something common: they should not be deemed sanctified as ‘the voice of the people,’ but rather as the voice of ‘some people’ or ‘some peoples’” (ibid.).
The difference between these actions, polls and formal audience surveys is that in the focus groups, ratings are based on the whole audience that watches the telenovela, a thermometer of commercial sales and the advertising-based business model. This audience is not the same as the one that votes in social media polls or that produces content. For Eneida
Nogueira, the reactions on social media does not replace qualitative and quantitative research:
Whoever is talking in the social network are the ones that either love or hate [the programme]. However, the group that does not manifest itself so clearly is the group that participates in the research. I think it is important to listen to these people because they are the vast majority.
(Svartman and Nogueira, 2018)
In Brazil, the reactions on social media do not mean large audience numbers on open television. Programmes such as reality shows The Farm/A Fazenda and Masterchef Brasil, for example, attracted much attention on social media in 2019, including several trending topics. However, this success on the internet did not necessarily revert to audience ratings on open television. This difference makes sense if we consider that the penetration of open television is higher than that of the internet in Brazil.
According to the annual study of the GMSP (Media Sao Paulo Group, www.gm.org.br), in 2018 in Brazil, there were 68,920,836 households with a television set, amounting to 96.8% of the population. Geographically, TV Globo’s signal covers 97.2% of all households with a television in Brazil. Between 6pm and 10pm, when telenovelas are being aired, approximately 70% of these televisions are on. Also, according to media measurement and analytics company Comscore, in 2018, 46,170,641 Brazilians accessed social media networks. Facebook had 55.7% penetration within these users, while Instagram and Twitter only 16.3% and 10.4% each. Therefore, although these numbers are possibly changing, the visualization of massive audiovisual content still occurs by open television in Brazil. Another point is that the television metrics that guide the price of advertising consider only the 15 major cities to reach the PNT. Many of the people that may vote in an internet poll or be part of an internet campaign do not live in these cities. Once again, it is necessary to take into account the business model of open television, supported by advertising since the beginning, which makes ratings a vital factor in curating the flow of programming.
For digital platforms, for example, a programme with enormous resonance on the internet can be attractive. That is because a fragmented, specific and segmented audience consumes this content. In the case of digital platforms with subscription-based business models, it is the catalogue that needs to be attractive to the consumer in the form of a database. The reaction on the internet becomes equivalent to promotional activity. The risk of rejection is diluted not only by the number of titles in a vast menu of content but also by the platform’s algorithm, which supposedly offers what the viewer wants. Therefore, as the algorithm fits this consumer’s taste, fewer rejected programmes will be suggested to him. It is not the massive audience of the programming flow of corporate television that supports the business model.
Another critical factor is that broadcasters have already learned that fans of certain characters or actors know how to circumvent the algorithm of some social media platforms to draw the attention of the production or its authors. On Twitter, for example, many users have already realized that if they commit to posting the same hashtag at the same time, it will show in the trending topics. Twitter’s algorithm “understands” that it is an important subject, and the “headline” will appear in the featured list of trends of the moment. Currently, it is up to the author to follow (or not) the suggestions of research and social media, even knowing that these do not mirror the actual audience of a telenovela.
As journalist and critic Mauricio Stycer remarks, “[cjurrently celebrities, including telenovela actors, have also become powerful media on social media. To get more followers and thus more advertising proposals, they need to interact with the audience and become characters of their own private life” (2019). Thus, a fan-coordinated action can directly target these actors while they are on the air in a telenovela. This does not necessarily mean that it affects the audience of the telenovela, but these actors may try to pressure the station for changes. Also, the mismanagement of a crisis can cause repercussions to blow out of proportion. However, these crises have already brought practical experience to corporations. In the article, Stycer (ibid.) analyzes the conflict between the actors of telenovela Setimo Guardiao/Seventh Guardian (2018/2019) and their fans that was all over the media and, of course, their social networks. Author Aguinaldo Silva decided to respond with a public statement ensuring that the narrative would not change because of that. There is also the practical learning progress of the actors and entrepreneurs who represent them since the business model involving social media is part of the income of these artists.
In the next chapter, the business model of corporate television, which directly influences the telenovela, will be addressed. The chapter analyzes the new possibilities and challenges that arise with digital platforms and the sliding of content between different screens and media. If the telenovela in Brazil has as its characteristics longevity and massive audiences, it only continues to exist because it provides profits to its networks.