“The growth of spaces for public television and even access to digital and other technologies, have not guaranteed their success in terms of coverage or preferences of the Brazilian public, who have overwhelmingly chosen to watch the programs of commercial broadcasters.”
Adriana Cedillo*/ Brazil, June 2015
In the digital development process that Brazilian television is currently transiting, it’s worth asking ourselves about the potentials and prospects that will be available to public television in the near future, particularly in terms of coverage and consumption when the process of digitization concludes in 2018.
According to Anatel (the National Telecommunications Agency), the “pilot” switch-off of analog broadcasts will begin in November this year in the city of Rio Verde in the state of Goiás, and will then continue for three years, when it is estimated that at least 93% of all households in each municipality receiving open broadcast TV will be ready to connect with digital. This would represent a first challenge for the Brazilian government, as it will have to guarantee access to this technology in all of the country’s 5570 municipalities, taking into account regional differences in terms of infrastructure, economic and social development.
In the case of public television, the digital transition becomes even more relevant, given the expectations regarding its reorganization, which have mainly been voiced by Tv Brasil, one of the largest public broadcasting networks, and owned by Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (2010) which also includes media outlets such as Agência Brasil, Radioagência Nacional, Tv Brasil Internacional, and the MEC AM and FM radio stations, among others.
Samuel Possebon, editorial director of Covergecom (Converge Comunicações), the main Brazilian media group that constantly accompanies the telecommunications market, shared his views with Observacom, and stated that the outlook for public
television coverage and its inclusion in digital technology does not look very promising, for as he stated “there’s a problem, apart from there being no reserve set aside for new channels, because in many cities funding is needed to build a better infrastructure for networks from a technical point of view. And there is no guarantee that this will happen. What does exist is a task, particularly for tv Brazil in the sense of trying to convince the government to create a network operator for the public television service, which should be undertaken by a single body. This could be a private or state company, a consortium or something else, but which is responsible for building an infrastructure that can be shared by all public broadcasters.”
It should also be remembered that although Brazilian public television has had important moments, such as its emergence in 1968 with the University of Pernambuco station, or the launch of the legislature channel in 1990, it wasn’t until 2007 when a more consolidated process began, starting with EBC (Empresa Brasil de Comunicação), which was created to “strengthen the public communications system”, according to its website. Another significant milestone in public television was the beginning of the simultaneous transmission of the RNCP (the National Public Communications Network), which TV Brasil also belongs to, along with the educational stations of 23 Brazilian states.
However, the growth of spaces for public television and even access to digital and other technologies, have not guaranteed success in terms of coverage or preferences of the Brazilian public, who have overwhelmingly chosen to watch the programs of commercial broadcasters. This can be observed in the audience ratings that reveal a rather uneven balance between both sides; for example, the primetime slot of media giant Globo has an average rating of 33%, while that of TV Cultura only captures 3% of the viewing public according to a survey carried out by Ibope (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics).
“Public TV has two challenges, the first is the huge difficulties of distribution, as it reaches only a few large urban centers or is embedded in the cable TV network, thus the challenge of distribution is still pending. However, there is a problem that is still far from being resolved, and that is in terms of its audience. Public TV has been unable to win over the Brazilian public, and is not a reference for viewers in terms of entertainment or news,” points out the editor of Covergecom.
Given these circumstances, highlighting the main challenges for public television channels continues to be an important, as there are various aspects to consider: the recent linkages between public television and the emergence of the RNPC, which is a process that has still not been fully developed; the digital transition which is still on-going; the lack of consolidation of projects such as that proposed by TV Brasil for the setting up of necessary infrastructure, and the negotiations that are to be carried out based on specific proposals that have been made to the Brazilian Congress regarding this issue.
To state whether the outlook is promising for public television in Brazil within the next few years is difficult in a setting in which it appears that this process is progressing slowly, and against challenges such as the unfair competition with major TV networks such as Rede Globo, SBT (Sistema Brasileiro de Comunicação), Rede Record and TV Band. Added to this is the still nonexistent articulation between public media and the legislative branch to discuss new openings, and the stagnation that has been noted for various years with respect to attempts by the Workers Party and civic organizations to resolve the issue of economic regulation of the media.
However, to say that the success of public TV is far from certain would be irresponsible, as attention needs to be given, among other aspects, to the outcome of the realignment of digital transmissions to see if there is any possibility of winning new broadcasting spaces. What is certain is that public television in Brazil continues to exist. This year one of its stations, Tv Cultura, was named by the British research institute Populus as the second highest-quality channel in the world, second only in fact to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) itself.
*Journalist and media analyst