The influence of screen convergence, new digital platforms and transmedia narratives on the telenovela business model

The Brazilian telenovela is a commercial product of broadcast television that has a well-known business model: the audience combined with the credibility of the audiovisual product that establishes a value for the commercial exploitation of a given work. Not every programme with an expressive audience attracts advertisers; this is the case, for example, of news or shows with excessive violence or sexual content. As a production premise, telenovelas have to be attractive to the audience and also to advertisers who finance the content, generating profits for the company. Since the beginning of television networks in Brazil, daily television dramaturgy has had this vocation. If in the beginning advertising agencies supervised telenovelas and were responsible for spaces in the television grid, now the business model works the other way around.

Robert Allen (1992) notes that being a spectator of commercial television entails an implicit contract. The narratives resemble a “gift” to the audience, as the open TV signal arrives unsolicited and free in viewers’ homes. Television commercials are something that come with the “gift,” but are also a reminder that an advertiser is the bearer of such a “gift.” Allen perceives that at least some viewers are expected to purchase the advertised product; therefore, the conditions of the implied contract will not be carried out in front of the television set, but in a store or supermarket. Allen compares the implied contract of television with that of cinema. For him, the audience of a film would not accept commercials because he or she has paid for the ticket, and no other action would be expected of them. Nevertheless, nowadays, with the convergence of the screen business model mix, the separation between media is not the same as it was in 1992, the year the article was published. For example, it is currently common to watch advertisements before the main feature in cinemas, and films themselves are a means of marketing products.

Accordingtomarketrcsearchcompany Nielsen, while.SYa/Ttar.v: The Force Awakens (2015) grossed US$2 billion in theatres, merchandising revenues were US$5 billion to US$6 billion (Nielsen Research Institute, 2015). In 2016, Mattel, the brand of the year according to the MIPTV audiovisual industry event, presented in Cannes its content division responsible for producing films and creating narratives from their toys (YouTube, 2016). The company shared the information that, with the drop in sales, creating narratives for various media and screens, including films, has become critical to selling toys. Throughout this chapter, we will analyze the different business models of audiovisual content and how they currently converge in the media ecosystem.

By including the financial aspect in his theories about new media and interactive platforms, Scolari (2009) defines a media ecosystem as the relationships between the media and the economy and the perceptual and cognitive transformations suffered by individuals exposed to communication technologies. It is a broader definition of convergence in contemporary times, which also encompasses serial narratives and their relationships with the public. This new phenomenon described by Scolari (2009) brings challenges to the future of audiovisual content, since each screen or platform has its characteristics of spectatorship, consumption and interaction and a different model of financial return.

Audiovisual producers and distributors plan content for various screens, possibly in different formats, with the purpose of higher financial gain. The strategy of sliding between screens not only increases the economic return of the works but also meets the public’s increasing cross-platform demand. A few years ago, a film would have the cinema as its first window, then DVD, VoD - video on demand - later cable television, and then open television. However, Alfonso Cuaron’s Rome (2018) was produced by Netflix for the digital VoD platform and screened in 600 theatres around the world, a limited distribution. Most of the screenings were free and promotional, and Netflix’s interest was primarily to leverage the film, included by the American Film Academy in the list of films that competed for the Oscars in 2019. Rome was a finalist in ten categories, winning the award for best director, best foreign film and best cinematography. Interestingly, in an interview with Variety magazine, the director, Alfonso Cuaron, said that the best way to watch his film was in cinemas (Variety, 2018). The pandemic in 2020 accelerated this tendency of not necessarily respecting the order of screens for film content, as films made for the cinema, like Trolls 2, went directly to VoD. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell (D'Alessandro, 2020) admits that there is a growing segment of the population that does not go to movie theatres. The telenovela’s distribution and business model is also changing due to the contemporary media ecosystem. During the pandemic, digital platform Globoplay announced 100 new telenovela titles from the TV Globo collection in its catalogue, giving this content new distribution and commercial possibilities.

When analyzing tendencies and business models, it is also necessary to ponder on transmedia content and narratives. For Jenkins (2006) and Jenkins, Ford and Green (2013), these would be those that represent a process in which elements of a fictional universe are systematically dispersed in various channels for the display, circulation and distribution of content to create a unified entertainment experience. Ideally, each media contributes uniquely to the narrative. Jenkins (2006), however, notes that there is a kind of “mothership” of the narrative, the first work of a franchise that will be developed, for example. Exhibition of the same original content in various media is not considered a transmedia narrative experience. Scolari (2015) defines transmedia narrative as a particular narrative structure that expands through different languages - verbal, iconic, for example - and media - cinema, comics, television and video games. The different media and languages participate and contribute to the construction of the world of transmedia narration.

For Robert Pratten (2012), in a practical guide for the production of transmedia narratives, this type of narrative makes it possible to tell the same story through multiple media and, preferably, with a degree of public participation or collaboration. Engagement, according to the author, increases audience satisfaction and affection for the universe/story. For him, the story needs to be greater than the sum of the narratives in different media, so that the viewer’s experience will be richer and more exciting when he accesses the total creative universe of the narrative. The author also offers a business model design in which different transmedia narratives slide through various media, sometimes as a promotional action, sometimes with the possibility of financial return.

Conversely, Mittell (2015), writing about the narrative complexity of American TV serials, notes that these narrative extensions are not a new phenomenon. Even if the term is relatively new, the strategy of adapting, expanding and enriching the narrative in other media is as old as media itself. The author cites as examples paintings based on passages of the Bible and fictional characters of the 19th century such as Frankenstein, whose trajectory has already been narrated, transformed and extended in different narratives in various media. For Jenkins et al. (2013), however, there is a big difference between extending a narrative to other media and reproducing a narrative in other media. An adaptation is a way of retelling the story in another media; an extension seeks to add something to the story that already exists, as it slides from one media to another.

From a first text or “mothership,” several secondary transmedia narratives can be offered by the producers of a television programme on the product-related website. As Pratten (2012) has observed, these transmedia narratives add value to the product concerning audience affection, demand and satisfaction. An example of this transmedia narrative in a telenovela may be a vlog on a specific character or a web series, in which secondary characters may expand a plot of the story. An example is Orelha TV, a transmedia experience in the 2012-2013 Malhapao/Young Hearts season, in which I was head writer, and which was nominated for the 2014 Digital Emmy. Orelha TV - Ear TV - is an internet video channel of one of the characters in the plot. The images of Orelha TV were captured during a scene by the actor who played the character, David Lucas. In the programme, small excerpts of this material appeared, but viewers could follow the Orelha TV channel in full on the internet.

In the case of the telenovela, the first text which airs will be more important to the broadcaster than the transmedia narratives, even if they extend the narrative and contribute to the fictional universe. It would be a transmedia narrative structure with an explicit centre and a set of satellite narratives that support it. Jason Mittell (2015) notes that in the case of television, commercially, it may not be attractive for specific programmes to invest financially in multiple platforms because most of the audience may not be interested in more than one media.

Shirky (2010), however, considers that it is not only the desire for more information that makes a fan or viewer seek transmedia narratives, but the affection for the original work. The viewer wants more. In the case of the telenovela, the vast majority of viewers will be involved only with the main narrative. The telenovela has a pleonastic language that takes into account the fact that the viewer may have missed one or more chapters. It is the affection for the story, for the characters, that can generate demand for more content, without interfering in the enjoyment and experience of watching the telenovela on the TV set within the linear flow of programming.

However, there is another demand for transmedia narratives that is not one of more information or affection. As Pratten (2012) has pointed out, there may be a transmedia narrative that brings a financial return. A transmedia narrative can complement the business model of a television programme. The telenovela I co-wrote, Totalmente Demais/Total Dreamer (2016), for example, had a spin-off series sponsored by a brand of beauty products, which will be a case study in the next chapter.

It is necessary to understand media convergence from the perspective of content and of the business model. This chapter discusses the relationship between the telenovela narrative, its consumption, the audience and the telenovela’s primary business model: advertising. This chapter also discusses how this relationship can be transformed with content sliding between platforms and transformations in spectatorship.

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