The Brazilian dilemma

From April 2008 to January 2010 I analyzed more than one thousand editions of more than eighty different programs of programming grid of TV Cultura, electing, in these analysis, more than two thousand and five hundred topics related to several aspects of the broadcasting activity. Programs were criticized and praised in details in their aspects of content, format, technical level and operational quality, in a tone and with a line of argumentation that found to be always friendly and, above all, constructive.  I must say that it has been one of the most exciting experiences I ever had in 24 years of work in television.

The audience ratings, however, show that the number of viewers does not correspond to the prestige which TV Cultura enjoys among the rich and the opinion makers of São Paulo and Brazil. This fact seems to confirm the common feeling among the brazilian media that these people prefer to talk and write about TV Cultura instead of actually watching it.

One could argue that the audience ratings are not important. Others would go far in saying that worrying about audience is the first step into the direction to the bad quality and to the low levels of culture and education. And some would simply say that there´s no reason to worry. The unique concern of public television, they say, is the high quality of the programming grid.

It could be that way in the United States, in the United Kingdom or in any other country of the European Union, where the average of culture and education is high and generally comes from the childhood. Not in Brazil.

Let me try to explain.

On one side we have, in Brazil, the commercial broadcasters, crucially dependent of the ratings. On the other, in São Paulo’s case, we have TV Cultura, with its ratings between 1 and 2 per cent, on average, during prime time, apparently satisfied with the fact of being watched barely by a fraction of the elite which ironically is the people that has access not only to the multiple choices of cable TV but to other alternatives of information and entertainment. The majority of the people is out of the frame. In addition to the fact of being squeezed between the commercial channels and their huge dispute for the ratings, TV Cultura has a series of internal obstacles that increase even more its distance from the common viewer.

One of these obstacles is the belief of TV Culturas’s producers that the common viewer is as cult and well-informed as them. The result of this misconception is the lack of measures to inspire and to seduce the viewer.  The producers don’t build bridges for the crossing of the viewer from the war of commercial TV to the contents of culture and citizenship of TV Cultura. There are many walls, instead.

Another obstacle is the fact that TV Cultura usually does not notice that its contents of quality, because of its more complex nature, require more creativity, more technology , more visual impact and less operational problems.

The systematic observation of the programming also gave me the opportunity to identify a sort of experimentalism with no criteria and intellectually arrogant that impregnated the environment of the corporation as time went by. Based on the “license” of the statutory commitment of the institution with the cultural diversity, the programming grid many times doesn’t take into consideration the crucial demands required by the television real communication. In many cases, these programs are documentaries originally produced for cinema and, due to the fact that they’re already paid by the government, they literally don’t need audience. Any king of audience.

My professional experience in TV Globo, Brazil’s largest TV network, taught me that we are not neither we will be british viewers, despite the fact that this condition is not necessarily a problem. Also differently from the newspaper’s readers, the brazilian viewer has a remote control on hand and is much more impatient and implacable than we could imagine. And sometimes he is right when he decides to change the channel.

Therefore the task of bring the common viewer to the contents of TV Cultura without ignore the technical lessons and powerful seduction of the commercial channels, cannot be considered, a priori, an impossible or an absurd task. Neither can be demonized as automatic shameful intellectual and artistic concession.  Yes, instead of sending the “ignorant ungrateful” viewer to the commercial rubbish and sleep in peace with the conscience, the producers and editors of TV Cultura have the obligation of increase the audience. Being a public television and having to deal with low budgets cannot exempt TV Cultura of its main mission. Neither is the fact of being a sort of playground of the elite, far from the majority of the citizen viewers and tax payers who, at the end of the day, are the ones who keep it working.

I was hired to open the bridges for these viewers and tax payers. And it is in their name that I will work until the end of this fantastic experience.

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