“Don Jimmy” Outlines Telenovelas’ New Reality at “Summit”

Even though never explicitly stated, the implied lure was: "Understand the trends in telenovelas and the role that the U.S. Hispanic market will be playing." And so it was labeled "The First World Summit of the Telenovela Industry," and even though only 140 people pre-registered, it managed to get a good line-up of executives from 18 countries.

Distraction's Michel Rodrigue flew in from Canada, FTV's Adnan Bilal came from Bosnia, Leonard Yanovski represented Russia, Mediametrie's Gwenael Flatres came from France, and Helena Bernardi arrived from Brazil to host a luncheon. There were also TV executives from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela for a total of 53 panelists that Spanish-language trade magazine TV Mas put together with the financial support of 14 sponsors, including Buena Vista International, Tepuy, TV Azteca and Telemundo.

The two-day "cumbre," which started April 13 at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Miami, featured 10 seminars and one keynote speaker, covering every aspect of telenovelas: production, co-production, dubbing, distribution, ratings in various parts of the world, the creative and the financial sides, and even product placement by McCann-Erickson's Ottavio Bocchino.

To underline the impact of the telenovela in Latin America, Mauro Alencar, a Brazilian academic who is also a telenovela advisor and researcher, said that, "Brazil did not have a history before the telenovelas of the late 1960s. It used to import history."

In his overall presentation, Carlos Bardasano of the Cisneros Group said that over 12,200 hours of telenovelas are produced each year with a business worth $2 billion, and that the major producers are Mexico, with 2,800 hours per year, and Brazil with 1,900 yearly hours.

According to Bardasano, each Latin American TV station devotes at least 65 percent of its financial resources to telenovelas. He also stated that "telenovelas on pay-TV don't exist" and that they are not produced for this window, a statement that sounded logical to some participants, but no explanations were given.

Other aspects of telenovelas were presented by Adrian Suar, general director of Argentina's Artear Channel 13, who stated that in his country, telenovelas are not stripped Monday through Friday. Also, in the view of Alejandro Ochoa, program and marketing director of Mexico's TV Azteca, "telenovelas have no shelf value. What worked in the '70s will not work in 2003."

Later on, Tepuy's Marcos Santana lamented that the production of telenovelas is drastically diminishing throughout Latin America, even in places such as Mexico and Venezuela, and in other countries it has practically halted. For Santana the solution is an increase in co-productions, but these present their own sets of problems, especially because of differing Spanish accents. Commented Jaime Escandon, president of the Miami-based Renata Producciones, "Telenovelas speak a universal language, but not all the accents are accepted."

Walt Disney's Fernando Barbosa devoted his whole presentation to co-production. He said that Buena Vista International is in the telenovela market because it is "the most important primetime genre in every Latin American free TV grid." And, according to Barbosa, "co-production is a way into the telenovela market." In addition, he said that because of financial crises, many countries need to co-produce and to get revenues from the international market.

The highly-anticipated presentation from Telemundo's president Jim McNamara ("Don Jimmy" to the crowd) did not disappoint: he came and he delivered. "Let's face it," he said in Spanish, "the Hispanic market is a Mexican market, pure and simple. A popular telenovela could reach 90 percent of non-Mexican homes and only 10 percent of Mexicans in the U.S."

This was what Globo TV's Alejandra Moreno came for: since the Hispanic market is very different from any other Latin American market and it is becoming very influential, what kind of impact will it have in the production of telenovelas?

To describe the good results that telenovelas have had in the Eastern European markets, producer Lejla Panjeta of Sarajevo said that in the ex-Yugoslavia, "they believe in different gods, but they all watch the same telenovelas." In Bosnia, for example, said Panjeta, "telenovelas can get 33 percent of the viewers."

According to Yanovski, president of Intra-Oil Communications, telenovelas first appeared in Russia in the late '80s and for many years were primetime programming. Today, however, the genre is programmed in the morning and pre-primetime hours.

But telenovelas are still going strong in Bosnia, stated Adnan Bilal, sales and marketing director of FTV: "Telenovelas are on in primetime in my country. They can reach a 90 percent share."

One original aspect of telenovelas was introduced by Michel Rodrigue of Canada's Distraction Formats, who said, "Everything becomes reality in these times: news, documentaries, telenovelas. Survivor is a game show, Pop Idol is a variety show, Big Brother is a documentary.

"Reality is not a genre," Rodrigue continued. "One has to mix in other elements to make reality. Format is a means of transport; it exports elements of a novela: casting methods, script, production methods, etc."

To that, Felix Cortes Camarillo of Renata Producciones said: "Novelas are more real than reality shows."

The following day, Distraction's Anne-Marie Lemay stated that it is possible to generate more money selling telenovela formats than from a finished product. "We could even make telenovelas become primetime product," she concluded.