Marco Altberg: Brazil’s Independent TV Production Has Major Growth Potential

ABPITV’s main priorities include expanding programming types and exporting formats

Marco Altberg: Brazil’s Independent TV Production Has Major Growth Potential

Brazil’s domestic independent TV production has transformed since 2012, and there are major growth areas in the near future. Marco Altberg, the president of the Brazilian independent TV producers association, ABPITV, confirmed in an exclusive interview with Variety.

Brazil’s TV production market has changed radically over the last two years, thanks in large part to Law 12.485, approved in March 2012, that obliges pay-TV operators to air 3.5 hours of domestic content weekly, and by Brazil’s federal Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual (FSA) – that is primarily financed via taxes on telco operators complemented by public funding.

Public resources supporting domestic production were upped in July 2014 to 2014 1.2 billion reales ($480 million), under the initiative Brasil de Todas as Telas, that encompasses four main action lines: training, development of projects and formats, production and distribution support, and film exhibition.

“There was already some popular domestic production by independent producers prior to 2012, and several major successes, including international successes, especially in terms of children’s animation.” Altberg commented.

But, he added: “The new framework has created an enormous change to the market, including an increase in Brazilian production and a rise in international co-productions.”

Children’s animation and kids series were some of the first areas of production to enjoy a surge in commissions from pay-TV operators from 2012 onwards, including from foreign-owned channels, such as Discovery Kids, Disney and Cartoon Network. Successes include “Peixonauta” that secured strong ratings on Discovery Kids and “Historietas Assombradas para Criancas Mal Criadas,” a Cartoon Network show.

“Peixonauta” has also been exported to other countries in Latin America via Discovery Kids.

Another success: “Zica and the Camaleons,” produced by Cinema Animadores, in co-production with TV Brasil and TV Cultura, that has been sold to Nickelodeon – it’s awaiting its premiere – and will be aired throughout Latin America.

Toon features have also delivered major international awards. Two won first-prize Cristal awards at France’s Annecy Intl. Animation Festival in 2013 and 2014: “Rio 2096 – A Story of Love and Fury” and “The Boy and the World.”

The live-action series “Pedro & Bianca” also won Best Kids Series in the International Emmy Kids Awards in 2014.

Alongside kids animation the other main programming strands that have enjoyed major growth include mini-series and documentary series.

Examples of recent fiction successes include “O Negocio”, produced by Mixer, with HBO, that is already in its second season, and is currently airing in Brazil.

Of the 21 most popular fiction series on Brazilian pay-TV, nine are national productions – of which eight are independently produced. All were made after 2012.

Altberg is convinced that the new regulatory framework has not only been beneficial for production but has also fueled pay-TV subscriptions in general.

The Brazilian pay-TV market has grown fourfold since 2007. Prior to enactment of the law, in 2011, there were 12.7 million subscribers. The current level in June 2014 is 19 million and will top 20 million by year-end.

That reps 31% of Brazilian households – still well below the average pay-TV penetration level in Latin America (e.g. 80% in Argentina and Colombia and 41% in Mexico), suggesting considerable further growth is likely in the near future.

Brazil’s culture minister Marta Suplicy has said that the government aims to use the new regulatory framework in order to turn Brazil into one of the five biggest film and TV powers in the world. ABPITV’s statistics confirm the impressive upswing in independent TV production.

Two years after the regulation, there is now almost four times more Brazilian content broadcast per year – 3,884 hours on 14 monitored channels in 2013 – and 17 times more investment in the sector.

Brazil’s free-to-air operators are also increasing their commissions from independent producers. In an industry presentation at the Venice Festival, ABPITV revealed that as a result of growth in demand from pay-TV and free-to-air channels, there is potential for total independent production to rise to 26,000 hours per year.

Membership of ABPITV has mushroomed: From 130 members in 2011, it now has over 440 members.

“The growth of independent production companies is quite astonishing,” suggested Altberg. “Before there were fewer production houses and the ones that did exist used to focus primarily on cinema and advertising. Now television content is increasingly important within their output.”

Brazil has also expanded its bilateral co-production agreements to include television production.

Brazil has bilateral agreements covering both cinema and TV with Canada, Chile, Germany, Israel, India and more recently with the U.K. (the latter two agreements are still pending ratification). That means that TV series produced within the framework of these treaties have dual nationality.

Both film and TV are also encompassed in the multilateral agreement signed between Brazil, Spain and the following Latin American countries: Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Altberg would like to see TV production included within bilateral cinema agreements signed with other countries, such as France and Italy, given their major TV production infrastructures and support systems.

The ABPITV prexy places major emphasis on the international dimension of Brazilian TV production and considers that distributors, such as Elo Company, play an important role in exporting programs internationally.

He also praised the role of the Rio Content Market, which run Feb. 25-27 in 2015, which he views as a “mini-Mipcom,” and considers well-positioned in Latin America, helping Brazilian production reach international buyers.

“We still need to increase the number of good shows and expand our programming options,” he suggested. “Sales agents need to consolidate their catalogues. We have a strong tradition in sales of animation and to a lesser extent in documentaries, but we also need to grow sales of mini-series and formats.”

Altberg stressed that given that companies such as Endemol have established subsidiaries in Brazil this will also increase an interest in formats.

On Sept. 24, at this year’s Rio Market TV, Marco Altberg moderated a seminar dedicated to this topic, “Has the series format arrived in network television?”

To date, the main example of adaptation of domestic formats to other countries has been Brazilian telenovelas, essentially produced in-house by broadcasters such as Globo, but Altberg believes that there is growing awareness of the possibility of exporting homegrown formats abroad – and this constitutes one of the current focuses of ABPITV’s initiatives. Globo already has TV series and minis on its sales slate, such as Heitor Dhalia’s “Bald Mountain,” also a feature film seen at the Rio Festival last year.