Brazil's Globo: Tuning In to TV's Influence

Times Staff Writer

Live-in lovers Silvana and Mauricio were having romantic troubles. She was jealous of Tamyris, his ex-wife. After the inevitable quarrel, Silvana kicked Mauricio out. Predictably, he went back to Tamyris.

True to its genre, the Brazilian soap opera "Brega & Chique" dramatizes familiar conflicts of life and love. It also exemplifies the phenomenal success of Rede Globo, Brazil's predominant television network and the most pervasive private institution in this nation of 140 million people.

Rede Globo regularly chalks up the kind of market shares that U.S. television executives only dream about: One evening in November, virtually every television set that was turned on in Brazil was tuned to "Brega & Chique," according to audience surveys. It was the fifth time in recent years that Rede Globo had won a 100% share of the prime-time audience with one of its fast-moving, emotion-packed novelas, as soap operas are known here.

Globo executives like to boast that theirs is the fourth-largest commercial network in the Western world, in terms of audience size. The first three--ABC, CBS and NBC--compete among themselves in the United States, but Rede Globo, Portuguese for Globe Network, is in a class by itself.

Day in and day out, Globo commands about a 70% share of the Brazilian viewing audience, network executives say. The rest is divided among three struggling commercial networks--dwarfed by Globo--and a sprinkling of government-supported educational channels.

Brazil has an estimated 20 million television sets. The potential viewing audience of 60 million has grown rapidly as the nation has developed during the last quarter of a century.

The network was formed in the early 1960s, spreading into the far corners of a country that is nearly as big as the United States. To the remote Brazilian backlands it has brought a colorful world of sophisticated soap opera, seductive commercials and see-it-now news.

During military rule from 1964 to 1985, Rede Globo was often accused of putting its power and influence at the service of the dictatorship. And now, as Brazil moves toward full democracy, critics say Globo has established a cozy relationship with the transitional government of civilian President Jose Sarney.

"It is hard to tell who owes more favors to whom, Sarney to Rede Globo or Rede Globo to the president of the republic," commented the business magazine Senhor.

Roberto Marinho, Rede Globo's sole owner, is an astute political operator with a reputation for making his considerable leverage useful. At age 82, Marinho has become an almost legendary figure in Brazil, a South American Citizen Kane.

"He is the owner of Brazil," said Homero Sanchez, a former Globo executive. "He permits Brazil to have a president. He controls everything in this country--communications and everything."

In addition to Rede Globo, Marinho's hundreds of holdings include a major newspaper, a chain of radio stations, magazine and book publishing houses, real estate properties, electronics and telecommunications companies, mining interests and agricultural enterprises.

According to Forbes magazine, Marinho has a fortune of more than $1 billion and is one of Brazil's three wealthiest men.

Observers say Marinho's influence has been decisive in the appointment of key Cabinet members, including Army Minister Leonidas Pires Goncalves and Communications Minister Antonio Carlos Magalhaes. Gen. Goncalves' son, Miguel Pires Goncalves, is a longtime executive at Rede Globo, and Magalhaes is an old friend of Marinho.

"Roberto tells Magalhaes what he has to do, and that's it," said Sanchez, who was director of research for Globo until 1983.

Despite his advanced age, Marinho is said to be in good health. He delegates some authority to his three sons--Roberto Irineu, Joao Roberto and Jose Roberto, all in their 30s.

Marinho is a small man with a trim figure and a shiny bald head. He is said to be a workaholic, a teetotaler and a careful eater, favoring fish and vegetables. But he also enjoys the perquisites of wealth.

"He's got a yacht that's about as big as a battleship," a foreign diplomat said.

The diplomat, who closely monitors the Brazilian news media, said the key to Marinho's power is "National Journal," Rede Globo's 8 p.m. news program. Because 35 million to 50 million Brazilians watch "National Journal" each night, it can make or break a newsmaker, the diplomat said.

"It means that Roberto Marinho probably runs this country," he said.

"National Journal" is sandwiched between two Globo soap operas. Armando Nogueira, Rede Globo's director of news and sports, said the popularity of the soap operas helps augment the news show's audience.

Nogueira acknowledged that the potential influence of the network's programs is a source of power for Rede Globo and Marinho. He said Rede Globo tries to use that power with an even hand, presenting the news with impartiality and giving equal treatment to both sides of political issues.

But O Globo, Marinho's daily newspaper, frequently takes sides--usually the conservative side--in politics. Sometimes O Globo prints editorials written by Marinho, and occasionally Rede Globo announcers read from those editorials on the air.

In the early 1960s, he obtained a television broadcasting license for Rio de Janeiro and signed a contract with the Time-Life Group, giving the American media corporation a share of profits from the television venture in exchange for financial and technical assistance.

After opening the Rio channel in 1965, the Globo network began expanding rapidly. Time-Life participation is credited with giving the new network a decisive competitive advantage over its previously established competition.

Between 1962 and 1966, Time-Life invested at least $6 million in the Brazilian network. Rede Globo executives and technicians absorbed American programming and production techniques, bringing new levels of polish and professionalism to Brazilian TV.

The Time-Life agreement was later rescinded, but Rede Globo continued to bring in television know-how from the United States.

Jose Bonifacio Oliveira Sobrinho, Rede Globo's vice president for operations, insisted that Marinho holds to the network's policy of impartiality.

"He does not use TV Globo," Oliveira Sobrinho said.

Because Globo's broadcasts use the public airwaves, he said, "it does not have the right to take sides."

Oliveira Sobrinho said Rede Globo's main influence on Brazil has been in the area of popular culture. Its soap operas and commercials have contributed to changes in dress habits, buying preferences and other behavior, he said.

Globo actors and announcers speak Portuguese with a specially tailored accent and vocabulary that soften regional language differences. The so-called "Globo talk" is spreading among the people of many regions.

At the same time, Globo has helped erode such provincial customs as evening strolls around the crowded town plaza, said Jose Roberto Whitaker Penteado, vice president of a private advertising and marketing school. "This has completely disappeared, because that is the time for the novela ."

Rede Globo's most successful programming formula has been to fill the evening hours with three daily soap operas, employing some of Brazil's best actors and directors.

The network's research department does in-depth opinion surveys and audience-reaction studies to find out what viewers want to see on television. In the past, some novela plots have been given new twists to comply with the suggestions from the research department.

Ilana Strozenberg, an anthropologist who specializes in communications, said Rede Globo transmits and reinforces the middle-class values of Brazil's two biggest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. But she said viewers are more likely to retain their own values than to adopt different ones transmitted by television.

"They say Brazil is going to be a copy of Globo. I think not," she said.

Muniz Sodre, director of the School of Communications at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said Globo contributes to a climate of social violence by depicting a "fake system" of middle-class affluence and consumption that is beyond the reach of most people in the "real Brazil."

Rede Globo is looking abroad for growth. Currently, it sells its programs--with the languages dubbed--in 60 countries for about $10 million a year. Some of the novelas --which run nightly but last less than a year--have been aired on Spanish-language channels in the United States, as well as in Cuba, the Soviet Union and China.

"I think that could be taken to $20 million with a more aggressive policy," said Oliveira Sobrinho. "Europe and Latin America are our two targets, as well as the Spanish-language market in the United States."

He said his main hope for increased business abroad rests on pushing more of the Globo soap operas that have been so successful in Brazil.

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