RIO DE JANEIRO — A fledgling local regulation has spurred international pay TV programmers to produce TV content in Brazil.

Companies led by HBO Brazil, Fox, DirecTV (which runs a channel in Brazil), Turner and Discovery invested about R13.5 million ($5 million) in local production here last year, up from $3.4 million in 2003, according to the local National Cinema Agency (Ancine).

Before the regulation, known as Condecine, was put in place in 2001 the companies invested almost nothing in local production.

The rule imposes an 11% tax on the programmers’ remittances to their American bases, but programmers are exempt from the tax if they invest 3% of their remittances in local production.

“The system is working fine,” says Katia Murgel, programming director of Fox channels in Brazil. “It is positive for the channels, which now have local content, for independent producers and, most of all, for subscribers.”

Local indie Conspiracao Filmes will lense “Mandrake,” HBO’s first production in Brazil, from mid-March to mid-June. Budgeted at $2.2 million, the skein of eight 50-minute episodes about a Rio lawyer is based on short stories by Brazil’s Rubem Fonseca.

Programmers are featuring the locally made shows not only in Brazil but also in other countries.

Fox produced 60-minute docu “Shell Shocked,” about a local reserve for turtles, which the National Geographic Channel aired in November in Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

HBO plans to kick off “Mandrake” in Brazil and other Latin American countries in October.

The National Geographic Channel will air across the region two other set of docs Fox is producing here.

“Animals of Brazil” and “Antarctica With Amyr Klink,” each have four 30-minute episodes.

“International executives are now realizing they can produce quality programming in Brazil at relatively low costs,” Murgel says. “Shell Shocked” cost $160,000 to make, while “Animals” had a budget of $330,000 and “Antarctica” $220,000.

DirecTV is producing “Chico Buarque,” a set of three 60-minute docs about local legendary composer Chico Buarque de Holanda, and “7 X Bossa Nova,” seven 60-minute docs focusing on local music. The company’s local channel will air the docus in October.

“We are now working on a third project,” says Rogerio Brandao, DirecTV’s programming director in Brazil. “We will make a set of three documentaries about Brazil’s rock movement in the 1980s, which we plan to shoot in June and July and open in November.”