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Latin American Telenovelas and the Global Market

Over the years, telenovelas have strengthened their position as the leading product of Latin American television production. The consolidation of the telenovelas as a marketable product in the Latin American region is defined by the audiences’ preference to this genre over American productions. According to Rogers & Antola (1985), imports of US programs into Brazil and Mexico decreased from 50 to 20 % compared to two decades ago. In his study of television preference in Brazil and the Dominican Republic Straubhaar (1991) confirmes Latin American television viewers' preference for regional and local TV programming. His findings show three layers of preference: domestic, regional, and US programming.

The increased flow of telenovelas exported to developed countries and the US Hispanic market have some scholars questioning the idea of media imperialism. Rogers & Antola (1985) offered the notion of "reversed media imperialism" citing the telenovelas' success as a rare example where a developing country’s product penetrates into the first world media market. Counteracting this argument is the notion that the contra-flow, from the South to the North, tends to be over emphasized on marginal contra-movements, disguising the real power structures in global communication (Biltereyst & Meers, 2000).

Even though Brazil and Mexico dominate the export market, Peru, Colombia, and Argentina are also contenders. However, the production and export of telenovelas is not limited to the regional market, or the United States Hispanic market. Different countries as far as China have imported this television genre; the international market also includes Russia, Spain, Egypt, Morroco, and the Phillipines to name a few (Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990).

Globo first exported the serial drama to Portugal in 1976, selling the telenovela "Gabriela” to Radio Televisão Portuguesa (Portuguese Radio and Television). One year later, an international division within the network is implemented to support the export of telenovelas to Latin America. By the mid 1980’s, Globo not only retaines its leading position in Brazil but it is also exporting its cultural products to 128 countries (Melo, 1988). In order to commercialize the telenovela in the export market, TV Globo needs to make some modifications in the original work. They realize that they need to transcribe the taped scenes, instead of using the original script. This is in order to provide a more accurate translation, since the actors sometimes modifie the initial script while taping. Therefore, a new script needs to be obtained, making it the starting point for future translations. High costs make it impossible to translate the work into English and French; even though it occurres in the initial phase, it is no longer viable. Globo maintains a Spanish translation service in Peru and Venezuela (Ortiz et al., 1991).

Novelas from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries are also exported to more than 100 countries (Melo, 1988). Mexican Televisa reported a strong audience rating in Europe in 1994, 86 points for “Yo Comprare Esa Mujer” (I Will Buy this Woman) in Hungary, 30.9 for “Rosa Salvage” (Wild Rose) in Switzerland, 45.9 for “Los Ricos Tambien Lloran” (The Riches Also Cry) in Turkey, and 41 points for “Simplemente Maria” in Russia. In promoting their novelas, Televisa emphasizes they easily cross borders and appeal to a wide demographic audience in each country (Variety, 1993).

In the United States, telenovelas dominate the Hispanic television market. They are a major part of television programing, airing in the morning, afternoon and prime time. The Univision network is the predominant leader importing novelas primarily from Mexico's Televisa for the Hispanic audience. Telemundo, owned by NBC, is trailing in second place, importing telenovelas from Colombia (Betty la Fea), and Brazil (El Clon, Terra Nuestra) (Barrera & Bielby, 2001). Telemundo now is beginning to produce their own soaps, to take advantage of product placement and the revenues it generates. A Telemundo production premieres in December 2004, the telenovela “La Mujer en el Espejo” (The woman in the mirror). It is filmed in Colombia, and tells the story of a woman that is ugly during the night and beautiful during the day thanks to a magic mirror. It promises to include all the usual melodrama, the rich father who has not met the daughter, the expected villains, and also humour (Morales, 2004).



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