U.S. Cable TV Invading Brazil

By Adalid Cabrera LeMuz, Associated Press, Wednesday 29 August 2001, 12:14 AM ET

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP)—Buffy the Vampire Slayer (news—Y! TV) is stalking a new target in Brazil, and some TV viewers fear it could be the country's prime-time soap operas—their cherished telenovelas.

The popular Fox TV series is leading a foreign invasion by cable television that is luring viewers away from traditional Brazilian programming.

Sometimes there are problems at our house, admitted Josias di Mateo, a Brasilia teen-ager. The American programs are great, and my parents fight us for the remote control because they prefer the telenovelas.

Telenovelas are a Brazilian institution and consistently among the most-watched programs. They run six nights a week for about six months, and the most popular ones often pull in 90 percent of the viewing audience for crucial episodes.

But now, their dominance is being challenged by American titans like Friends and The Simpsons (news—Y! TV), which have a small, but devoted—and growing—following.

For now, cable and satellite television represent a small segment of the market, with an estimated 2 million customers among Brazil's 170 million people. By contrast, powerful Globo TV, the biggest of the nation's half dozen networks, claims to reach some 90 percent of Brazilian homes.

One restriction is the gulf between Brazil's haves and have-nots. A basic cable package costs about 75 reals ($30) a month—half the monthly minimum wage. In the many towns that don't have cable and rely on satellite reception, a simple roof-mounted dish can cost an average $150.

But the market is upscale and growing. The average cable client is upper middle-class, a prized consumer, and rival cable networks woo clients with offers of TV sets, antennas and first-run movies.

Newspapers and weekly magazines, which until recently paid little attention to cable, now run lists of top-rated shows.

The Ibope research institute found that U.S. series—aired in English with Portuguese subtitles—are the favorites of Brazilian viewers. Buffy the Vampire Slayer heads the list, which also includes That 70's Show (news—Y! TV), Dark Angel (news—Y! TV), The X Files, Angel, E.R., Friends, Charmed and Dawson's Creek (news—Y! TV).

The U.S. invasion has some Brazilians disturbed.

Moviemaker Almir da Silva fears the cheap canned imports will discourage local networks from investing in their own productions. Brazilian television is widely recognized as the best in Latin America, and its slickly produced telenovelas and miniseries are exported around the world.

Psychologist Maria Amaral warned that the violence and consumerism often depicted in American shows could have a negative influence on young Brazilians. The portrayal of a culture so different from Brazilian society also could lead to a loss of national identity in the long run, she said.

Still, the U.S. wave could be hard to stem. Cable and open TV networks currently carry about 150 American shows, including movie channels. Even TV Cultura, the educational channel and a staunch defender of domestic productions, carries foreign films, although they are mostly classics of Charlie Chaplin or Mexican comic actor Cantinflas.

Mexico also weighs in with comedy shows and its own telenovelas, which run regularly on SBT, Brazil's second largest network.