TV Record bets on Olympics to boost it to No. 1

RIO DE JANEIRO — TV Globo’s 40-year reign as audience leader in Brazil will be challenged next year when TV Record airs exclusive coverage of the London 2012 summer Olympic games.

The FIFA soccer World Cup and the Olympics are traditionally the top sports events on Brazilian TV. Next year’s games are particularly important, because Rio is preparing to host the 2016 event.

In 2007, No. 2-ranked Record outbid its rival, paying $60 million for exclusive rights to the London games for free-to-air TV, pay TV, pay-per-view and the Internet.

Some industry execs are already saying the investment will not pay for itself.

Record’s main shareholder is Bishop Edir Macedo, head of the Universal Church of God’s Kingdom. Rival execs and many analysts say the wealthy church is funding Record’s expansion, which its execs flatly deny.

Even though the gap between the nets has narrowed in recent years, Globo is still in a comfortable position, with an average overall rating of 15.5 in April to Record’s 7.5. Even if Record beats Globo during the Olympics, which runs July 27 to Aug. 12, Globo is expected to win the year.

Sergio Hilinsky, Record’s sports manager, is still upbeat. “Record will be the No. 1 net during the Olympics; we will make history,” Hilinsky tells Variety. “Record is on its way to the audience leadership, and sports programming is very important to draw viewers, investors and advertisers.”

Record also has exclusive rights for October’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara and the 2015 games in Toronto. Both Globo and Record have rights to the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil and the 2016 Olympics.

Coverage of the Pan-Am Games will serve as a rehearsal for the London Olympics. Record has hired a dozen former Brazilian athletes as commentators, including basketball players Oscar Schmidt and Magic Paula, sprinter Robson Caetano, swimmer Fernando Scherer and volleyball player Virna Dias.

According to Hilinsky, the net will send more than 200 journalists, commentators and crew to Guadalajara. Record will air eight hours of live sports a day, and anchor its daily newscasts from the Pan-Am Games. Sister pay TV channel Record News will air 12 hours of live events daily.

Globo is fighting to retain its leadership. The flagship of the Marinho family-owned media group, the largest in Brazil, Globo extended its long-time hold on the popular local soccer leagues by signing agreements with all top teams until 2015.

Additionally, the net is changing its programming to appeal to Brazil’s new middle-class. Over the past years, millions of families emerged from poverty and became buyers of products and services. Meanwhile, upper and upper-middle-class viewers are moving to pay TV, DVD/Blu-ray, Web and other forms of entertainment.

Globo general director Octavio Florisbal says his company’s research indicates middle class auds want shows with simpler language and down-to-earth themes.

Globo’s newscasts focus on issues hitting blue-collar neighborhoods, and reporters and anchors now tend to dress casually.

The changes also have affected the net’s telenovelas, traditionally set in the upper-class neighborhoods of Sao Paulo and Rio. Primetime telenovela “Fina estampa,” which will bow in August, is set in a blue-collar suburb. Sitcom “Tapas and Beijos,” featuring two bridal shop assistants, also reflects Globo’s new programming focus.

While all the nets are chasing this sector, they all seem to have benefited by the addition of millions of Brazilians to the market. Advertising spending on the free TV networks hit 16.49 billion reals ($9.41 billion) in 2010, up 21.6% from the previous year, according to Inter-Meios research.

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