The 2012 Summer Olympics may well serve as the first time in years that Brazilian auds will not hear the familiar voice of famed sportscaster Galvao Bueno calling the games. At least not if he stays at his current job with TV Globo.

For the first time in the history of free-to-air TV in the country, TV Globo will not air a major sports event, as rival TV Record outbid the market leader for exclusive rights to the London games for $60 million.

The investment is part of TV Record’s recent effort to challenge TV Globo’s audience leadership. Since 2004, the net has invested $340 million in new programming, the bulk of it ever-popular telenovelas. For its efforts, last year TV Record managed to seize second position in the ratings from Sistema Brasileiro de Televisao (SBT).

“It is difficult to estimate when we will be the market leader,” Record’s president, Alexandre Raposo, says. “We are doing our homework, and we believe that by 2012 the audience scenario will be completely different.”

While TV Record has significantly advanced in ratings since 2004, TV Globo still holds steady leadership. According to research company Ibope’s national figures for the 7 a.m.-to-midnight period, the No. 1 net had a 19-point audience average in the January-July period, compared with a 7-point average of TV Record, 6 points for SBT, 2 points for TV Bandeirantes and 1 point for RTV. In Sao Paulo, the country’s largest metro area, the gap between TV Globo and TV Record narrows to 9 rating points, according to Ibope.

“In the past 10 years, Globo kept an average audience of 21 points in the 7 a.m.-to-midnight period,” says TV Globo general director Octavio Florisbal. “We are making some adjustments to existing shows and launching new attractions. We are

confident we will back to the 21-point average in the coming months.”

Florisbal stresses that TV Globo airs the 30 most-popular shows in the country. And as for sports, the net retains exclusive rights for Brazil for the highly popular local soccer leagues and tournaments as well as the World Cup in 2010 (in South Africa) and 2014 (in Brazil). The latter is already among the most anticipated sports event in the country’s modern history.

Florisbal adds the net is counterattacking with a number of new shows, such as kidcentric TV Xuxa. The net also has commissioned shows from indie production companies, including the upcoming 12-part miniseries “Som & Furia” from helmer Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes.

The Marinho-family-owned TV Globo also is a distant leader when it comes to revenues (totaling $3.2 billion in 2007). TV Record, which belongs to Bishop Edir Macedo, head of evangelical the Universal Church of God’s Kingdom, reported total revenues of $768 million in the same period. Third-place SBT had revenues of $372 million.

Florisbal opines that the true TV competition is between TV Record and SBT for second position. In fact, following a steady ratings decline, SBT regained part of its lost ground in June with the rerun of telenovela “Pantanal,” a 1990 hit. With those reruns, SBT’s ratings in the 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. slot (the so-called “extended primetime” in Brazil, where people tend to tune in late) are close to those of TV Record’s telenovelas.

But most analysts and industry execs agree SBT will likely decline in ratings as soon as “Pantanal” is over, as TV host-owner Silvio Santos’ net does not have a significant telenovela production center. TV Record has a topnotch production center in Rio, named Recnov (Record Novelas), which features eight studios and makes two telenovelas simultaneously. Record also has more than 140 actors under contract in addition to writers and crew members.

Additionally, TV Record and Mexican giant Televisa recently inked a five-year deal for Portuguese remakes of Televisa’s telenovela hits. For the past six years, Televisa had a similar partnership with SBT, but their agreement expired and was not renewed.

“Record has a plan. We believe in our telenovela production system. What is our competitor’s plan?” Raposo asks.