Pay TV opens up new opportunities

RIO DE JANEIRO — Business is looking up for Brazil’s independent TV producers, thanks to a small but rapidly expanding number of pay TV channels owned by local and international companies, all hungry for local content to lure auds.

“The Brazilian independent production market is growing fast,” says Roberto Martha, director of production management of Viacom Networks Brasil, which operates Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., VH1, VH1 HD, VH1 Mega Hits and VH1 Classic. “The partnership between indies and international channels is a reality, and we are glad Viacom, which has constantly co-produced with indies, is taking part in this process,” he adds.

Indies have long been hampered by broadcasters’ tradition of making shows inhouse.

Paulo Barata, general director of Universal Channel, a joint venture between NBCUniversal and local pay TV player Globosat, sees the inhouse TV industry model as a plus in the long run.

“These networks fostered the creation of a topnotch workforce, production expertise and technology, which spread market-wide,” he says.

MTV Brazil is also commissioning content. It has partnered with the city of Rio de Janeiro’s audiovisual agency RioFilme and the state government’s Culture Secretariat to fund production of a 480,000 reals ($290,000) TV series.

The producing partners will make six pilots from the best pitches, which MTV Brazil will air next year. One of these will be picked up for a 13-episode series that will air nationwide on MTV Brazil, says RioFilme prexy Sergio Sa Leitao.

The exec made the announcement at the inaugural edition of the Rio Content Market, an ambitious TV mart and seminar put together by independent producers’ org Brazilian TV Producers (ABPI-TV) and partially sponsored by Rio’s city and state governments. The fact that Rio Content, which ran March 16-18, attracted 1,500 participants, including reps from 450 companies, 80 of them from overseas, illustrates the strength of the local biz.

David Shore, creator and exec producer of “House,” kicked off the event with a pep talk to local producers, saying: “Brazil is a country of 200 million people. It should have its storytellers out there. A lot of new American series are based on foreign stories. I am sure it will happen in Brazil, and I think this type of event will allow this to happen.”

ABPI-TV’s prexy Marco Altberg sees Rio Content, which included 150 presentations and panels as well as business meetings and pitch sessions, as an extension of the org’s international work. For the past seven years, delegations of affiliated producers have traveled to the world’s TV markets to establish international co-productions.

Canadian companies are among the main partners of Brazilian indie producers, particularly on animated TV series, as the two countries have a co-production agreement that allows projects to tap in to Canadian and Brazilian incentives.

The org has also organized training programs in Brazil.

Altberg says the Rio Content Market was originally planned as an event that would draw 500 people.

“But the fact that we attracted about 1,500 participants indicates the repressed demand for this type of meeting,” Altberg says. “This reflects the positive situation of our country and market. But most of all this event represents the strengthening of the Brazilian independent TV sector.”

Execs from U.S.-based production house Starlight Runner made the trek to Rio, where CEO Jeff Gomez announced that it had pacted with local indie Umana on “Moonflower,” an animated TV series about British botanical artist and environmentalist Margaret Mee, who specialized in plants from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.

“We are helping create the story world, making it very robust, perhaps a little bit more commercial at an international level,” says Gomez, who spoke at the event’s transmedia storytelling panel. “We are going to work with Umana to make sure the content is developed properly for various media platforms.”

Brazil has a healthy free-to-air TV sector. Broadcasters, led by top-rated TV Globo, pocketed $9.4 billion in advertising spending in 2010, up 33.6% from the previous year.

The good news for indies is that, over the past few years, a series of regulations and government incentives such as Article 39, which allows companies to invest part of their federal tax in local indie productions, have opened up opportunities. New media platforms provide even more possibilities.

Looking forward, the Brazilian Congress is debating a broad set of regulations that would further boost the indie TV production sector by setting a quota for the amount of locally made programming on skeds.

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