Ten years ago Venezuelan network Venevision broadcast the first episode of telenovela Cosita Rica (Sep. 30, 2003-Aug 30, 2004). This melodrama presented a mix of romance, realism, humor, and political and sociocultural commentary that included characters allegorical to real political figures. The character of Olegario Pérez, in particular, was an opposition-tinted metaphor of then President Hugo Chávez. The telenovela was a huge success while it paralleled the rocky road Venezuelans traveled towards the Presidential recall referendum of August 15, 2004. Cosita Rica won the ratings war against rival network RCTV’s telenovelas, giving Venevision the top billing that had eluded it for more than two years. Today, however, it is impossible to produce and broadcast a telenovela like Cosita Rica in Venezuela. In the last decade, the nation’s legal framework, media landscape, television and telenovela industries have changed in important ways.
Developments since 2003Back in 2003 media content in Venezuela was deeply polarized. Privately-owned media were staunchly critical of Chávez’s government, and government-controlled outlets had the unmistakable aroma of propaganda. Chávez imposed his presence on the airwaves through cadenas (mandatory broadcasts in all television and radio stations), attacking private media in long-winded speeches. It was in this media environment that author Leonardo Padrón wrote Cosita Rica with a thesis in mind: “to analyze power and its miseries, and to write about the possible reconciliation of both sides of the political spectrum.” The audience responded by watching massively, regardless of their own political position. (More about the writing, production and reception of Cosita Rica here: 1, 2, 3, 4).
Two years later, in May 2007, network RCTV went off the air when its license expired and the government refused to renew it. It was substituted by government network TVES. The closing of RCTV signaled the end of an era that defined Venezuelan television for 50 years: the competition between RCTV and Venevision. Now, the telenovela industry had lost one of its two main producers, and the country had lost an emblematic media outlet. The message to the remaining ones was unmistakable. The writing was on the wall.
Venevision--avg. rating & share range while Cosita Rica was on the air: 7.0-14.4 32-50%
Venevision--avg. rating & share at 9 p.m. Sep. 2-6, 2013: 5.6 23.8%
RCTV--avg. rating & share range while Cosita Rica was on the air: 5.5-10.0 25-32%
RCTV--avg. rating & share at 9 p.m. Sep. 2-6, 2013: n/a n/a
Televen--avg. rating & share range while Cosita Rica was on the air: 2.0-3.5 8-12%
Televen--avg. rating & share at 9 p.m. Sep. 2-6, 2013: 5.1 21.5%
TVES--avg. rating & share range while Cosita Rica was on the air: n/a n/a
TVES--avg. rating & share at 9 p.m. Sep. 2-6, 2013: 0.3 1.5%
Cable--avg. rating & share range while Cosita Rica was on the air: 1.0-2.0 5-10%
Cable--avg. rating & share at 9 p.m. Sep. 2-6, 2013: 8.8 36.7%
- For the numbers in red, I chose a random recent week (Sep. 2-6, 2013) and averaged the audience numbers for the 9 p.m. slot from Monday to Friday.
- During the chosen week, Venevision broadcasts at 9 p.m. the only Venezuelan telenovela on primetime: De todas maneras Rosa.
- The first two nights of that week, Televen aired the final episodes of Las Bandidas a remake of Venezuelan telenovela Las Amazonas, co-produced by Mexico’s Televisa and Colombia’s RTI in the studios of RCTV. The rest of the week the network broadcast Marido en alquiler, a remake of Brazilian telenovela Fina Estampa, co-produced by Telemundo (USA) and Rede Globo (Brazil).
- AGB Venezuela reports cable as an aggregate measure. Probably there is not a single cable channel with a higher rating than Venevision or Televen.
- TVES usually broadcasts soccer and/or news until 9:30 p.m., followed by Brazilian telenovela Río del destino, produced by Rede Globo.
The contrasts in these numbers are obvious and show the impact of the political developments and economic policy on Venezuelan television and its traditional backbone: the telenovela.
Meanwhile, Univision will soon broadcast Cosita Linda, a Miami-produced remake of Cosita Rica (minus its political content), starring Ana Lorena Sánchez and Christian Meier, actors who hail from Mexico and Peru, respectively.