TV Brasil looks into high-tech future

New pubcaster digs digital, BBC model

The Brazilian government is looking to Britain for its next broadcaster. Dec. 2 is set as the launch for TV Brasil, a federal government-backed pubcaster modeled after European pubcasters, particularly the BBC.

The pubcaster will be the flagship company of a state-owned media group, also tentatively named TV Brasil, which will include a radio station chain and a news agency as well as the TV outlet.

TV Brasil’s creation seems to be a priority of the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who in March named Franklin Martins as minister for social communication with an explicit mandate to create the pubcaster. A bill creating TV Brasil is now pending in Congress, and observers believe it will be passed shortly.

The idea is to put together a net that will be “independent from the government and market pressures” and “a reference of quality and diversity,” according to Martins. It will have an annual budget of about $175 million.

The government has been vague about plans for the web, but the programming will be free of telenovelas, gameshows, soccer and other popular entertainment found on the commercial webs.

According to Martins, the pubcaster’s guidelines will be set by an independent board of 17 to 20 Brazilian citizens. President Lula recently named Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo as the pubcasters’s president. Belluzzo, who is a college professor, is a very influential economist with strong ties to Lula’s oppostition. Analysts say that it’s these links that led to his appointment — that it’s a strategy of Lula to detach TV Brasil from an image of “PT’s TV.” PT is Lula’s political party.

Belluzzo will select the other board members and also the net’s executive director, who will report to the board.

“It was the society, not the government, which had the initiative of proposing the creation of a new public TV,” Martins tells Variety. “There are public networks in several countries. In Brazil, however, the TV industry began with private groups.”

In fact, the broadcast TV sector in Brazil is dominated by private, family-owned companies, but the three existing pubcasters and various state-owned pubcasters can’t compete against the private ratings juggernauts.

With the new net, Martins aims to attract state government pubcasters to form a nationwide TV Brasil net. Those that choose to join will be able to tap into TV Brasil’s programming, receive coin to produce regional shows and upgrade stations to digital.

The creation of TV Brasil also is linked to digital TV launching in the country. All existing analog nets are scheduled to begin digital transmissions in Sao Paulo on Dec. 2. The other regions of the country are due to follow in 2008.

“This is perhaps the last window of opportunity for public television here. If the migration to digital is accomplished before public TV is fully established, it will be difficult to recover the lost ground,” the minister says.

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