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23 March 2015

This year, Brazil’s main broadcaster, Globo, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. A significant milestone, yes, but also a time for some searching questions: how does a company like this remain influential in the face of increasing competition from rival TV channels and other platforms available online?

Globo’s presence has been felt across politics and society throughout its half century of broadcasting. In the past the station has helped shape presidential debates; its soap operas influenced Brazilian’s views on moral issues – from divorce in the 1970s to gay rights in recent times. And Globo’s evening news show Jornal Nacional is trusted by many citizens as their main means of finding out what’s happening in the world.

But Globo has not been without its share of controversies and it has its critics, many of whom have been uncomfortable with its virtual monopoly. The station has also struggled because of its politics, mainly its support of the Brazilian dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. During the street protests that erupted in Brazil in 2013, every time a Globo reporter appeared among a crowd, they were booed. More recently the station apologised and admitted its support for the dictatorship was a mistake.

Despite such reservations, however, there is no doubting one thing: the quality of Globo’s soap operas. The 21.00 show remains the most watched slot on the schedule, even if the audience is not what it used to be. Globo is investing heavily in the new show called Babilônia, which launched last week and stars two of Brazil’s best-loved actresses, Glória Pires and Adriana Esteves, as opposing villains. And in a more daring piece of casting, the show features iconic Brazilian actress (and Oscar nominee) Fernanda Montenegro alongside Nathalia Timberg, as a lesbian couple in their eighties.

Globo admits that it will be impossible to achieve the 50 per cent share of the audience they used to have in the 1990s or early noughties, but they are adamant that 35 per cent should be the norm. Recent soaps, though, are struggling to reach that number – perhaps the public are getting tired of committing to more than one hour a day for more than 200 episodes. The popularity of American series on Brazilian TV can not be underestimated either and Globo is striving to bring some of their pace to its own telenovelas. For a start they will be shorter (Babilônia is a mere 160 episodes). What the new-season shows must also demonstrate is the political and social relevance that famous predecessors like O Rei do Gado and Vale Tudo did.

Although 2015 is a year of celebration for Globo, it will also be a testing one, too. I for one will be watching closely to see if this great institution can demonstrate the fresh thinking and innovation necessary to remain relevant - and popular. In the meantime, however, I will enjoy the catfight between the two villains in Babilônia!

Fernando Augusto Pacheco is a researcher for Monocle.


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