A telenovela in the database: watch it as you wish

As already observed, the narrative of a traditional telenovela is well known to the Brazilian public. As an author, I am surprised by viewers in focus groups or social media that often foresee the unfolding of some plots. It is not unusual for comments or opinions to become a source of inspiration, but, most of the time, the audience wants to see the characters for whom they have affection to be happy as soon as possible. However, a telenovela, or any melodramatic narrative, does not exist without significant conflicts. That is, there will be a happy ending, but until then, many obstacles will disrupt the lives of heroes the audience loves.

As already noted in the second chapter, the author’s power over the telenovela is directly related to the production model, which requires six chapters to be produced per week. As the telenovela is an extensive and “open” work, by following what is happening on the air, the author can make adjustments to the original synopsis. The actors and directors contribute a lot to the result, thus also influencing the course of the narrative. However, new examples of interference in the original work emerge along with recent transformations in spectatorship, the relationship between the work and the audience, thanks in part to new technologies and interactive platforms.

Despite all the transformations concerning the convergence of screens and amplification of the repercussions of a teleno vela on social media, three fundamental ingredients of daily television dramaturgy until recently had not changed. The first is the control of the narrative temporal flow; second, the continuity of the story by the author; and third, the control by the broadcaster of the display, flow and reruns of chapters. For decades, daily from Monday to Friday (or Saturday, depending on the product), chapters are made available to the public on television. Thus, the arc of the primary and secondary plots, the trajectory of the characters, their transformations and conflicts are offered linearly and continuously, even if not all viewers are as assiduous.

Chatman (1978), concerning story structure, ponders that there is the time of reading a text and the time of the narrative - in other words, how long a speech takes to happen as opposed to the time events take place in the story. He notes that many questions may be raised taking into account these time-related elements:

For example, how is the story anchored to a contemporary moment? When is the beginning? How does the narrative provide information about events that have led to the state of affairs at that moment? What are the relations between the natural order of the events of the story and the order of their presentation by the discourse? And between the duration of the discursive presentation and that of the actual story events? How are recurrent events depicted by the discourse?

(Chatman, 1978)

Kozloff (1992) assesses that temporal distortions help us discover the narrator on television. The closer the speech is to real-time, the more invisible and less intrusive this narrator or whoever tells the story will be. A live narrative would be the antithesis of a narrative with repetitions, parallel actions, flashbacks or flash-forwards and temporal elasticity when the narrator - in the case of a telenovela, the head author - is easily revealed. The events of a story, its order and duration are altered. Mittell (2015) also notes that for every narrative, time is an essential element, especially in the case of television narratives. We can consider three different temporal flows for all narratives: time of story - how time passes within the story; time of discourse - the duration and structure within a narrative; and time of narration - time that the plot is on the air, or the deadline set to tell the story. This same model of classification of narrative temporal flow also applies to a telenovela, and time is always a vital writing tool of the author. Until recently, the time of the flow of a telenovela, be it the time of the story, speech or narration, was not something that the viewer could control.

Globoplay was launched on 3 November 2015. On the computer, mobile phone or tablet - with expansion plans for video game consoles and connected TVs - the public can watch the programming through simulcasting (streaming) and have free access to excerpts of specific content. Subscribers can access entire programmes at any time, plus films and series purchased from other content producers, as well as access to exclusive cameras in popular reality shows such as Big Brother Brazil (BBB). Regarding telenove- las, Globoplay subscribers have the right to watch full chapters. Those who consume content for free are required to watch chapters through excerpts, with advertisements, on Globoplay. However, by making content available this way, the company allows the viewer to seize the time of the narration and discourse of the work for the first time in the history of television. Although the company sells subscribers the comfort of watching a chapter in full, inadvertently, by offering its content in excerpts, the broadcaster may be favouring a new practice of spectatorship.

Manovich (2015) notes that while cinema and romance favour narrative, the computer age introduces its correlate: the database. The author reports the predominance of the database form in new media and mentions, as an example, the website of a radio or television station. Watching linear programming through streaming is just one of the options of the database.

A first analysis of the number of online views of each excerpt available of the prime-time telenovela A For^a do Querer/Edge of Desire (2017), by Gloria Perez, shows that the selections have different audiences. On 19 June 2017, for example, the most viewed excerpt on the Globoplay platform had 88,140 views, while the least seen had less than half, 31,689 views. It is no surprise that the most viewed excerpts are the first and the last two, i.e. the chapter cliffhanger and its resolution in the next chapter. Cliffhang- ers have the purpose of stirring the viewer’s curiosity so that he or she will watch the telenovela the next day.

In addition to the significant number of visualizations of the initial scene and the cliffhangers of telenovela chapter online, when analyzing the chapters of the whole week, it is also possible to see that specific plots or nuclei are more successful online than others. Manovich (2015), when researching the culture of the database and its relationship or opposition to the narrative, notes that a traditional linear narrative is one among many other possible trajectories. A telenovela has several nuclei and, depending on the story, there may be an alternation in the protagonism of different plots.

Such an example would be A Forqa do Querer/Edge of Desire. The telenovela launched on 3 April 2017, having as a main plot the story of Ritinha, who believes herself to be a mermaid, and her love triangle with urban playboy Ruy and lorry driver and eternal groom Zeca. Nevertheless, throughout the week of 19 June to 24 June, the telenovela narrative was focused on the plot of the character Bibi Perigosa. Fifty-eight excerpts were made available about this nucleus, while the nucleus of the mermaid Ritinha had 34 published excerpts. However, even though Bibi Perigosa’s nucleus had all the cliffhangers, the scenes with the most views were those that dealt with the love triangle of Ritinha, which began the story.

The most viewed excerpt of the whole week on 24 June, with 134,520 views, is part of the mermaid plot and has the title “Zeca and Ruy are impressed with Jeiza and Ritinha.” Naming the scenes for the viewer on digital platforms is a demand for new spectatorship on a new platform. Without this, content consumption and understanding of what is offered by the database would be confusing. By monitoring the number of views of the excerpts referring to this nucleus, it is possible to conclude that there are people who watch only this plot, building a specific trajectory in the database. It is also possible to remark that the excerpts of intense scenes, with sensual, dramatic or violent ingredients, have thousands more views than others, regardless of the nucleus. The scene of a car accident that same week, for example, of a nucleus that did not have as many online views, the one with the transgender character Ivana, obtained 86,191 views. The average of all the other scenes of this plot that week did not reach half as many views. Nevertheless, there may be spectators who watch only scenes of this last plot and scenes from other nuclei that are sexy, for example. Each viewer can create not only their own narrative, but also watch excerpts from a single chapter over days or excerpts a week at a time.

Despite the efforts of television networks to control their content on video-sharing platforms, it is not difficult to find fan-produced compilations of scenes of their favourite couples. As confusoes de Pedro e Karina em Malha(;ao parte I/The Misadventures of Pedro and Karina in Young Hearts Part 1 is an edition that has only scenes of the main couple from the season I co-wrote in 2014 and 2015. In June 2020, the video had 2,788,380 views. This video is not unique. It is possible to find short clips that feature many couples from telenovelas. This content needs to circumvent broadcasters’ copyright protection mechanisms, such as fingerprinting. Therefore, many use stratagems such as blurring images, creating frames around scenes or using colour-changing filters to escape identification tools. There are many differences between the compilations present on video-sharing platforms and the customized viewing of specific excerpts on the Globoplay digital platform by a viewer. The compilations, made by fans, are narratives offered to other viewers as closed works. There is a curatorship in the video of Pedro and Karina. The compilation does not include all the scenes in the 275 chapters that were exhibited during the telenovela.

Allowing the viewer to assemble his or her narrative was certainly not the purpose of the station when offering excerpts from telenovelas online for free, but rather a catch-up mechanism in the video on demand (VoD) platform. Notwithstanding, it is possible that many viewers, now faced with the possibility of watching only the plot that interests them, prefer to watch the telenovela through excerpts. It is the custom telenovela. The database brings new distinct possibilities of spectatorship. The chapter of A Forqa do Desejo/Edge of Desire most seen in full by subscribers in the week of 19-24 June was on a Monday, with 54,710 views - that is, less than half of the most viewed excerpt for free.

By making the telenovela available in a database to be then reorganized by its consumers, the station removed an essential part of the author’s power - the use and control of the flow of narrative time as a writing tool - and handed it to the public. Even if unintentional on the station’s part, this opportunity possibly satisfies the demands of the part of the public that does not identify with the various plots and nuclei homogeneously. Taking into account all the transformations that the telenovela has already undergone - updating the narratives, division by nuclei, the influence of series, among others - perhaps a next change is precisely this new way of watching the content.

Currently, TV Globo’s telenovelas occupy five hours of prime time every day, providing national narratives with famous actors and actresses displaying and shaping culture. In many ways, for many people in Brazil, the telenovela is synonymous with television. It continues to fulfil this function, but it cannot avoid the needs of new audiences. The audience in the country watches television in a “traditional” way, but the form with which the audience interacts with the content is increasingly sophisticated, amplified by digital platforms and social media.

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