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MIP: How Latin America’s Free TV Fights Against Streaming Erosion

The networks in Latin America’s biggest markets — Globo, Telefe and Televisa — are fighting back against long-term digital erosion.

Last year in Brazil, Globo delivered its best all-day performance in eight years, averaging 14 rating points, according to market research shingle the Wit. Argentine Telefe’s “Sandro” is a ratings phenomenon. But the big question is how long this rally can last.

Over 2015-17, Globo’s free-to-air daily reach grew 6%, says Silvio de Abreu, Globo drama head. One standout: 160-episode “The Edge of Desire,” from Brazil’s well-known scribe Gloria Perez (“The Clone”), which averaged a 48 million reach.

Bowing March 5, “Sandro,” about the Latin American music icon, hit 16.9 ratings points by episode six, becoming Argentina’s most-watched 2018 program so far. Surprisingly, “Sandro” took little away from its free-to-air competition, notes producer Juan Parodi: “Netflix and Amazon viewers have come back to free TV,” he says.

Nielsen Mexico’s Armando Uriegas announced in late February that Mexico’s free-to-air audiences were growing after months of decline.

Globo, Telefe and Televisa are all overhauling their telenovelas while driving into shorter series with more novelty, variety and pace. They can boast larger production values and artistic ambition.

“Globo is now attempting to go beyond traditional telenovelas, targeting younger audiences,” says the Wit’s Bertrand Villegas.

It has just made its first medieval novela, “God Save the King,” “mixing romance with a ‘Game of Thrones’ feel,” Villegas says; its first disaster series, “13 Days Away From the Sun”; and its first gumshoe pulp fiction, 1920s Rio-set “Forbidden City.”

“We continue to invest in new talents, production infrastructure and technology,” de Abreu says. For instance, 17 new screenwriters — nine of them female — have broken through as lead writers on 13 Globo fiction series aired over the past 18 months.

Budgets are also rising. “Sandro’s” is near double Argentina’s average of $200,o00 per episode, according to Parodi.

And series’ productions values are more cinema-quality. Globo is allying with Brazil’s prestige movie producers — 02 Filmes (“13 Days”), Gullane (“Jailers”) and Conspiracao (“Under Pressure”) — to make its flagship series.

Likewise, “Sandro” is directed by New Argentine Cinema icon Adrián Caetano. It shows. Its first flashback sequence of Sandro biking through 1960 Buenos Aires has 17 angles, including setting, traveling, dolly, aerial, reverse and cutaway shots plus pans.

Mexico’s resurgence may owe more to audiences reconnecting to television sets after analog switch-off than overall Televisa ratings momentum. After all, TV Azteca’s sports talent contest “Exathlon” has hit it hard. But, under Isaac Lee, Televisa is again reworking its telenovelas.

Individual shows, sometimes Univision ratings drivers, are at least doing well. One instance: Edgier romantic novela “Caer en tentación,” which played especially well among the higher-income 19-54 demo in a later-primetime 9:30 p.m. berth.

“We can fight back, produce our shows, [on a] big scale,” says Parodi.

That said, “The long-term trend of primetime TV ratings decline in free-to-air TV won’t go away,” Villegas says.

Even Globo is preparing three OTT-exclusive offerings: Sexual-abuse drama “Harassment,” oil rig-set “Ilha de Ferro” and “Fechar Meus Olhos Ahora,” a series noir, de Andreu says.
Fighting back, Latin America’s biggest broadcasters are also readying for the future.

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