The debate featured producers, organizers and directors of video festivals in Brazil and abroad, in a bid to encourage networking and information exchange among the guests, and thus articulate a market for these professionals.

Guests included 676 producers, 12 television channels, 7 distributing companies and a few journalists. Sixty-seven people registered for the meetings, which took place in the mornings of September 28, 29 and 30. The agenda included market and distribution, international independent production and work proposals. The debates ultimately focused on the distribution of video production in Brazil and abroad.

Critical text Marcelo Machado

On participating last year in the Montbéliard Video Demonstration (France), I ascertained that European festivals are the gateway into the market. This holds especially true of more cutting-edge projects, experiments in video and television works with unusual, innovative formats.

It was a pleasant surprise to find Videobrasil engaged in internationalization this year. We – Solange Oliveira, director of the Fotoptica Videobrasil Festival, and I – organized the "Videobrasil: Social and Experimental Tapes" exhibition in New York. We both had the same goal: exchanging information and learning to develop new work proposals.

The technology gap does not cause Brazilian video creations to fall too short of the international scene. At times, we suffer from chronic lack of organization. Thus, we plan to keep our meeting short and objective enough that history will not repeat itself again. And this goal will only be fulfilled if participants stay objective. We believe some of them may find partners with which to undertake joint efforts.

It is worth noting that this meeting of videomakers, distributors and channels with international guests is taking place at a time of change. This is a time when UHF and subscription channels and experiments with cable TV are emerging in Brazil. This is a time when, based on articles from the Constitution which address the regionalization of TV and the encouragement of independent production, new bills are being discussed that will reshape the labor market for videomakers. I hope we can remain attuned to what is being created and done overseas so we can ensure some of our future domestically.

Critical text Cândido José Mendes de Almeida

The history of Brazilian television began in September 1950, amid technical difficulties and a natural fascination with the new medium. This scenario, made worse by the fact that broadcasts were live, persisted until 1956, when video tape ushered in the audiovisual revolution. The history of this medium in Brazil can be divided into three different periods: the first, which lasted approximately fifteen years, is marked by improvisation and creativity, both artistic and administrative. It was the rule of TV Tupi and its affiliated channels, spearheaded by the unpredictable personalism of Assis Chateaubriand, whose star began losing its shine after the military coup. The year of 1965 saw the beginning of the technological and political engineering process that ultimately birthed the fourth largest television empire in the planet: Rede Globo. In the wake of the development of the military regime’s telecommunication apparatus, Globo quickly cemented its horizontal penetration across the country’s territory and secured a comfortable supremacy in one decade’s time. Success came by way of a simple programming format: a well-balanced mix of soap operas, journalism, live shows and sports. The third period took place in the early the 80s and was marked by two separate developments: on the one hand, the redistribution of TV Tupi’s estate, which gave rise to two new communication groups: Rede Manchete and Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão (SBT). Alongside the existing networks (Bandeirantes and Record), they comprised Rede Globo’s inexpressive competition early on in the decade. The only channel to garner results from a medium- and long-term history is SBT, which appropriated a formula Globo had utilized in the past: to search for a quantitative audience, focusing on the middle- and lower-middle income brackets.

The growing audience, however, failed to impress agencies and, from 1987 onwards, the fledgling network focused its energies on winning over more refined viewers with higher purchasing power. Today, Globo’s 65% average prime time audience attests to its leadership, but can eventually be threatened by certain shows from SBT, a network undergoing a serious identity crisis. These figures are certainly expressive in a society that sits everyday in front of 28 million TV sets, a potential pool of nearly 80 million viewers. Brazil is a country where TV has a household penetration rate of 60%, lower than in countries like the United States and Japan, but relevant considering the country’s territorial dimensions. As for the Law that regulates Brazil’s communications system, little has changed with the enactment of the new Constitution. The power to grant radio and TV channel concessions has remained in the hands of the Executive Power, which employs it as a political manipulation tool. Concessions must be ratified by National Congress, a technically ineffective requirement, and the implementation of a Social Communication Council is at risk of meeting the same fate as the one set forth in the current Telecommunications Code: extinction, pure and simple.

The second development that characterized the third phase of Brazilian television, which began in the 80s, is less to do with industry and more to do with the television set itself. This was the time in Brazil when TV started to intersect with the new communication technologies. Portable video, which became widespread in the late 70s, facilitated the emergence of an audiovisual movement that was christened as independent production in Brazil. These new producers – basically artists, newly-graduated students and television professionals – favored festivals and exhibitions, initially centering on the Rio-São Paulo axis, to publicize and show their work. The independent ones tailored their strategy to match their own concept: keeping production away of the commercial TV system, but not precluding the latter when it came to broadcasting. As the decade progressed, experiments, particularly with language, developed to the point that they interfered with the aesthetics of commercial television itself, which incorporated signs from the independent visual grammar into some of its shows. This is a paramount issue, for Brazil’s is perhaps one of the only private TV systems in the world to have established this near-osmotic interface with a production then considered non-mainstream. Video art, as a fragment of this production, had a less fortunate fate.

Pressured by high production costs and blatantly discredited by galleries and the like, video art struggled to cross over from festivals into its own outlets. In this regard, at least this is a standard scenario even in civilized countries. currently, independent production companies are basically located along the Rio-São Paulo axis, for strategical reasons: this is where 70% of the demand for services and the opportunities lies, although this has not prevented the formation of extremely active and creative production hubs in the states of Minas, Rio Grande do Sul and Pernambuco, whose city Olinda is home to a groundbreaking experiment in mobile popular TV.

The 80s saw the emergence of a novel application for the same technology: domestic video. Less experimental but equally important in its specificity, home video revolutionized the TV-viewing habits and customs of spectators. The first piece of home video equipment made in Brazil was launched in 1982, into a market flooded with contraband equipment. Immediately, the first video rental shops surfaced and, despite operating with clandestine tapes, they informally fuelled the industry. From 1984 onwards, the first major distribution companies arose, a trend that picked up steam with the addition of new players and now accounts for roughly 5 million installed devices, served by approximately 4,000 rental shops across the country. The formal and informal industry has an annual turnover of around USD 300 million. Subscription TV in Brazil was created stealthily, in 1987, through a decree from the Ministry of Communications. Despite constant pressure from civil society sectors that called for new TV channels in the country, the regulation was issued with no prior consultation of the main parties concerned. The decree defined a UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) spectrum in which for encoded channels to operate. The curious thing about this audiovisual communication modality is it combines two formulas in a seemingly mistaken way: the concept of cable TV and subscription TV technology. The UHF spectrum was used for airing encoded signals in the United States’ West Coast in the past decade, and died off shortly after the emergence of cable TV. The reason is that cable TV allows for large numbers of channels in one single system, whereas subscription TV, in this case, only allows for one. Another aspect to consider is the high cost of decoders (US$ 80) and monthly subscriptions (US$ 10). Finally, the profiles of the first concessionaires leave no question as to the fate of TVA in Brazil: to replicate the template of commercial TV for a sophisticated audience. In other words, nothing new under the sun. The consequences of this third phase of Brazilian TV could only be measured over the coming 5 years, once the changes currently underway have become consolidated. What seems indisputable is the fact that the scenario is changing, albeit discreetly, and should lead to an irreversible shift in the role played by television and the TV set in our society.