Network commissions help production companies

RIO DE JANEIRO — Thanks to the hunger of pay TV networks, Brazil’s indie TV production sector is flourishing.

Federal incentives also have helped bolster the sector, which has grown up in the shadow of inhouse programming from broadcasting powerhouses like TV Globo. Another recently introduced incentive aims to push the mighty local broadcasters to avail themselves of indie productions.

In the 1960s, broadcaster TV Globo set the business template, in which nets produce their own programming inhouse. Indeed, TV Globo has one of the largest production centers in the world in Rio. The other broadcasters, including the market’s No. 2, TV Record, followed the same scheme. Such a concentrated, vertical production model, resembling Hollywood’s studio system, left no room for indie shingles to produce series or telenovelas.

But the launch of pay TV in Brazil in 1989 gradually opened up the market for indies. Even TV Globo’s sister company Globosat began in the 1990s to commission docs for its pay TV nets GNT, Multishow and Sportv.

By 2003, international pay TV programmers that had networks on Brazilian feevee platforms became major commissioners of Brazil’s indies, thanks to a federal incentive, Article 39, which allows these companies to invest part of their federal tax into local indie productions. Using coin that otherwise would go into the government’s pockets, international nets are able to air local content, which is key to drawing subscribers.

Some $58 million has been invested in local programming via Article 39, led by HBO ($27 million), Turner ($9 million), Discovery ($6 million), Fox ($6 million) and DirecTV ($5 million).

“Article 39 is definitely helping the independent production community to grow,” says Luis Silberwasser, senior VP of content for Discovery Networks Latin America/U.S. Hispanic. “The TV indie production sector is growing and getting more solid. The production infrastructure is good, and the talent is there. There are fantastic cinematographers and editors in Brazil, but it is still hard to find good scriptwriters and storytellers.”

Kids’ TV series “Fishtronaut,” doc series “Destino: Lua-de-Mel,” reality skein “While You Were Out” and docs series “Rio Ink,” “Chico Mendes, o preco da floresta,” “Viver para contar” and “Solutions to Traffic” are some of the shows Discovery commissioned local indies to produce and aired on its nets recently, Silberwasser adds.

Traditional top producers, such as helmer Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes, Mixer and Conspiracao, now have units fully dedicated to the production of TV shows. Some smaller indie production companies have pay TV nets as their main customers.

Roughly 35% of O2’s revenues come from entertainment, including TV programming and pic production, while advertising accounts for the remaining 65%, says the company’s exec director, Andrea Barata Ribeiro.

HBO commissioned O2’s series “Filhos do Carnaval” (Sons of Carnival), whose second season with seven episodes launched Oct. 4. The skein costs $660,000 per episode, high for a locally produced series.

If pay TV nets are driving the indie production sector expansion, free-to-air nets remain nearly closed to it. TV Globo has, since 2002, commissioned isolated miniseries from indies, including O2, which made four seasons of “City of Men,” two of “Antonia” and one of “Som e Furia” for the net. The other private free-to-air nets commission even less. Pubcasters do buy some indie programming, but the amount is not significant.

“We have very little room in (free-to-air) networks,” Barata Ribeiro says. “We might grow a bit, but I don’t see any significant change, unless we have specific new regulations determining so. It is part of the local networks’ business model to be producers of content.”

The government rejected the notion of quotas, but it did create an incentive to stimulate free-to-air nets to commission shows from indie producers. Article 3rd-A allows networks to invest some of the federal taxes they would pay into independent TV production, and is expected to positively impact the indie production market next year. So far, TV Record is the net that has set aside the most coin to be invested under the new incentive. The net has tagged $532,000 for future investments in indie productions.

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