Nov 24, 2007


Recently, I wrote a post about my concern regarding the loss of local color and flavor in Venezuelan telenovelas due to the lack of competition, now that RCTV is out of the open airwaves.

An important aspect of this no-competition phenomenon is the definition of local "success" or "failure" of a telenovela under this particular conditions.

Traditionally, ratings and shares have been the currency of the television system. Of course, good ratings aren't always accompanied by quality television. But, these numbers are considered by the industry and by advertisers as the measure of tv consumption.

But, what happens with the perception of these numbers when there isn't competition, as in the Venezuelan television case?

I don't think there's a change in the advertisers' perceptions. They know well that now that RCTV is only on cable, Venevisión is the colossus and the most watched tv network in Venezuela. For them, ratings have the same meaning they've always had. It's business as usual.

This is possibly true also for the majority of people who watch telenovelas in Venezuela. Those who don't care about ratings, or who wins, but who just want to be entertained by their telenovela of choice. Their decision-making process every evening is still pretty much the same. They just have fewer options, courtesy of the Venezuelan government.

I note a change in perception, though, in those members of the audience that are most committed to the telenovela genre: bloggers and message board participants. In those spaces politics frequently color the perception of whatever is on the tv screen. Ratings, which are seldom made public, are interpreted, even when there hasn't been access to them. Opinions are created about this or that telenovela, and spirals of silence (Noelle-Neuman, 1974) appear among those who disagree, but who perceive themselves as being in the minority, even if they aren't.

Given Venezuela's intense political polarization and the soon-to-happen important constitutional reform referendum, I'm not surprised by most of what I read in blogs and boards. However, there are some arguments that intrigue me. For instance, there is the generalized assumption that if RCTV wasn't only on cable, that its telenovelas would win on primetime. This, of course, is impossible to know for sure. The most important thing I've learned in all these years studying telenovelas is that the audience is unpredictable. Therefore, RCTV could well win or lose.

There is an interesting paradox that has caught my attention. The most visited post in the Spanish version of my blog is the only one that mentions Venevisión's telenovela Arroz con Leche. (Here the post's version in English). However, participants in message boards frequently say that this telenovela is a failure. Some argue that its share is lower than Venevisión's average intriguing and fascinating argument...That is, that since the telenovela has no competition, then it competes against the network that produces it.

This disparity between the number of hits to that particular post and the opinions expressed on the Internet made me look carefully at recent shares and ratings for the 9 p.m .slot.

Below, a graphic I prepared with the shares of the first two weeks of November. I didn't include Sundays (no telenovelas air on Sundays), or the days where baseball games preempted the telenovela's broadcast.

(Please click on the graphic so you can see it bigger):

A few reflections:
* Because RCTV isn't on the open airwaves anymore, the distance between Venevisión and the rest is immense, in terms of share.
* At 9 p.m., Televén and the Cable (aggregate share of all cable outlets) fight tooth and nail for second place.
* On most days, telenovela Arroz con Leche has a better share that its network average (green line).
* It's still impossible to predict who would win at 9 p.m. if RCTV was still on the commercial airwaves.

So, what can we say about the success or failure of Venevisión's telenovelas, now that there is no competition?

I don't believe we can clasify them as a failure, given the distance between them and the other options offered by Televén and the other commercial TV outlets.

At the same time, their success will always be tarnished by the absence of its traditional competitor, RCTV. It's like those baseball records with an asterisk.

On the other hand, what can we say about the success or failure of RCTV's telenovelas, now that they air only via cable?
We can't say they are successful or failures. We can only compare their numbers with the other options available by cable. Again, in baseball terms, this is like speculating whether an African American player who was never allowed to play in the Major Leagues would have been a record holder. Unfortunately, we can only speculate...

The most important thing is that by being assured (Venevisión) or incapacitated (RCTV) to hold the local market's supremacy, the focus of network executives and owners will shift to the international market. In this way, the terms of the game change. And, maybe, the way Venezuelan telenovelas will be written and produced from now on will change too.

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