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Theme Festival - Telenovelas with Global Appeal

Programming Profile

C21 Digital Screenings Theme Festival - Telenovelas with Global Appeal


Telenovelas, a popular and ubiquitous drama format, are the topic of the next Theme Festival on C21’s Digital Screenings. Here, Inigo Alexander explores how demand for the genre is changing and what impact the pandemic has had on supply lines.


Few TV genres have the cultural presence and committed viewership that can be boasted by telenovelas. Luring in viewers over a number of long-running seasons filled with ups and downs, family drama and shocking plot twists is no easy feat, and telenovelas have long been a staple of TV programming throughout Latin America and far beyond.


The production of telenovelas and soap operas is unlike that of other scripted TV, with many shows airing on a near-constant basis and production seemingly in perpetuity. Such shows also often occupy primetime slots in programming schedules.


“Latin America has always favoured this type of genre. Many of us call it the backbone of programming in the free TV world,” says César Díaz, CEO of Miami-based indie distributor 7A Media.


“For broadcast TV, it continues to be a staple of the programming grid. It has seen competition from pay TV and all the VoDs but, nevertheless, the telenovela is still holding some of its own in the free TV broadcasting world.”


However, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the cogs of the production machine and thrown programming schedules out the window, leaving viewers and networks alike scrambling to get their telenovela fix.


“It’s going to take a long time to recover in Latin America because telenovelas produced in Mexico, Colombia and the US are expensive. And with the markets being hit so badly, I don’t know when they’re going to be able to pick up again,” says Jose Escalante, CEO of Latin Media Corporation, another Miami-based telenovela distributor.



“It’s not just that the pandemic has stopped production – now [production companies] have to think whether there has to be a new way of producing them. And then what about the financial aspect? Will the networks be able to keep spending as much as they were spending on local productions? The networks will have to come up with something, but I don’t know what that is going to be.


“To be quite honest, if I were a telenovela producer right now, I would be really, really concerned.”


A quick solution to which many broadcasters across the region have turned is acquiring and airing re-runs. Díaz understands this may present an immediate and logical solution to gaps in programming, but says it means a financial blow for distributors like 7A.


“Ultimately, when you get to the acquisitions arena, networks have obviously halted acquisition of new content and the answer, in some ways, has been to go out and acquire re-runs with the idea that they are able to fill those gaps. However, they acquire them at much lower prices than first-run content,” he says.


“For the medium to smaller independent distributor, it’s been a much rougher road. As independents, we don’t own the IP, we merely represent. So we have to have content that appeals to the current situation, and the one thing that appeals to broadcasters now is the pricing.


Amor de Mãe (A Mother’s Love)

“So we’ve had to make price cuts in order to maintain a sales cycle. It’s a tough situation when you’re a distributor; you’re always striving to get the best possible price and, all of a sudden, you’re being asked to make sacrifices.”


Two of Latin America’s major producers and broadcasters of telenovelas, Colombia’s Caracol TV and RCN, have had to suspend production on a combined 38 titles. This includes pulling the plug on primetime telenovelas, with RCN scrapping Pa Quererte and Enfermeras from its schedule.


One of the biggest players in the world of telenovelas is Brazilian media giant Globo. In March, the company was forced to halt production on its four telenovelas and bring forward some of their finales, with library content subsequently replacing them in the schedule.


Fina Estampa (Looks & Essence)

Primetime telenovela Amor de Mãe (A Mother’s Love) was withdrawn and replaced by a re-run of older series Fina Estampa (Looks & Essence), with production and broadcasting of the second season of Amor de Mãe also being suspended indefinitely.


Similarly, Salve-se Quem Puder (Save Yourself), was pulled from the schedule until further notice, with its slot being filled by a shorter re-run of fellow telenovela Totalmente Demais. Meanwhile, Éramos Seis (Once We Were Six) and Malhação: Toda Forma de Amar (Young Hearts: All Forms of Love) both had their season finales brought forward and have since been replaced by re-runs.


For Angela Colla, Globo’s head of sales, the strategy has been a success. “At first, it was a bit shocking; we wondered how Globo would be able to deal with so many productions having to stop from one day to the other,” she says. “But we immediately found a solution using re-runs, and they are working very well because the titles that are going into each of the slots were very well chosen.


Salve-se Quem Puder (Save Yourself)

“On the day that we changed the 21.00 telenovela to the re-run, the ratings were not affected. It was basically the same number of people watching Fina Estampa – it was a great solution.”


Production suspension has meant sales of current telenovelas have had to be scrapped, since no new content will be coming down the pipeline for the foreseeable future. As a result, Globo has started selling its library telenovela content as well as broadcasting it locally.


Colla says this approach has been working well for Globo both regionally and further afield. “We’ve been selling them to Eastern Europe a lot and we’re sending more content to our African partners because they also had to stop their local productions and need content,” she notes. “It’s the same thing in Portugal and the US, especially the US-Hispanic market. So it’s kind of a telenovela formula that works for a lot of consumers.


“It’s not really a demand that is specifically because of the pandemic, as this is something that always happens anyway. For example, El Clon [The Clone] is a classic telenovela that we still sell everywhere – after so many years, we keep on hearing people asking about El Clon.


Éramos Seis (Once We Were Six)

“The biggest producers are calling off their investments, they don’t have acquisitions on course right now and are using re-runs like we are doing in Brazil. But there are so many other cases where channels don’t have productions to put on air and need more content, so we’ve seen a bigger demand for our content from people really needing content to put on their grids. At the same time, some of the biggest telenovela producers are using their own content, so we’ve seen we’ve seen both.”


7A Media’s Díaz says many regional networks are looking at local production to fill slots usually held by big international telenovelas.


“The situation has given local networks the ability and the confidence to rely on developing and creating local programming that may suit their needs for the future,” he explains. “If they really take advantage of that, they could capitalise. Developing strong local content may be very advantageous for them.”


Meanwhile, it’s not just in Latin America where telenovelas are a programming staple. Turkey has become an increasingly strong telenovela producer in recent years, and production hasn’t been affected as drastically there as it has in Latin America.


The Ottoman

Turkish broadcasters including Kanal D and ATV have seen international success with longform dramas such as Hercai and The Ottoman. Much like its Latin American counterparts, ATV has also seen good sales of its library content in recent months, according to Müge Akar, its deputy manager of content sales.


“Most of our drama stopped production and we used stock episodes that were produced before the crisis. But after a while, when the Covid-19 cases decreased in Turkey, we resumed some of our series such as The Ottoman with great precaution and new rules,” Akar says.


“We also used the fact that most of our recent long-running dramas, like Hercai, Lifeline, Grand Family, Orphan Flowers and Love & Hate, were ready to be shipped to our interested clients.”


The telenovela industry, like many other sectors of the TV business, has had its back against the wall for the past couple of months. The added strain of not being able to produce remotely has created uncertainty surrounding the genre’s future. But optimism remains high.


“I’m sure we will survive; I’m very positive about that, because we can now see that people don’t want to watch only new titles,” says Colla. “Re-runs are great and they show how people still love those shows. The story, the plot, the way of telling that story – it’s still what people want to watch. So this situation shows us that the telenovela format is going to continue even after the pandemic.”


Escalante concurs: “It will be affected, but it will survive. They will still produce telenovelas and they will still sell, but it’s hard to know how the production will change. It is hard to make a genre that has many followers disappear.”


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