For Some of the World’s Most Popular TV Dramas, the Viewer Can Determine How the Story Ends

Brazil's Globo Studios relies on focus groups to shape its telenovelas

Globo's most popular TV drama right now, A Forca do Querer, is averaging 46 million viewers every night. Globo/João Miguel Júnior

RIO DE JANEIRO—At Globo Studios, Latin America’s largest production facility and the world’s most prolific producer of TV dramas, 352 actors, 254 writers and 183 directors are under long-term contracts feeding a content beast of thousands of hours of programming every year.

Built on the edge of the Atlantic Forest, not far from Rio’s Olympic Park, Globo Studios encompasses more than 129 acres including 10 sound stages with 4K resolution shooting, post-production and special effects facilities, storage warehouses, its own natural gas power plant and a backlot with 38 sets. And it’s here that Globo Studios’ many telenovelas are produced.

“We are telling stories that are thought to be very simple and very melodramatic narratives,” Mônica Albuquerque, Globo’s development and talent director, told Adweek during an interview in Rio de Janeiro last week. “But in fact, we use this as a format to talk about our country.”

After the 30th episode—a typical telenovela has 180 episodes—the network assembles 10 focus groups that determine the story endings. “Mainly women. Because women talk,” said Albuquerque. “We take the temperature to feel if the story is being understood. The research tells us how to communicate some issues better.”

The most popular show right now, A Forca do Querer (The Force of Will), airs at 9:30 p.m. six nights a week, after the national news. According to Kantar-owned IBOPE Media, which measures the Brazilian audience, the show is averaging 46 million viewers per episode in its first five months and earns half of the available TV audience every night. In a country of 207 million,“we have 100 million viewers a day, 7 [a.m.] to midnight,” said Albuquerque of the network’s massive reach.

During our visit, crews were filming scenes for 6 p.m. telenovela Novo Mundo (New World). Set during the 19th century constitutional monarchy, the Novo Mundo production crew built a life-size replica ship, hired a coordinator who worked on the Pirates of Caribbean films, then, with special effects and green screen, set sail on the churning Atlantic Ocean until it reached Guanabara Bay.

The high-quality storytelling, where the authors are celebrities themselves, comes at a price. A series, which runs seven to eight months, can cost $45 million.

“We are focused on global stories that can travel well for any audience,” said Albuquerque.

Ninety-six percent of Globo TV’s content is produced by Globo Studios, and the network is overwhelmingly a seller, not a buyer, of content.

“We distribute 25,000 hours a year to over 70 countries,” Raphael Correa, Globo’s executive director of international business, told Adweek.

“As long as you create universal stories of high quality and production value, it really goes,” said Correa. “We’re taking the Brazilian values, Brazilian culture, and Brazilian talent outside Brazil, and that’s a very exciting thing about our business.”

Like most media conglomerates, Globo is adapting its business model before the audience forces it to.

“We have reorganized our operations to become a real studio where we can develop stories for different platforms,” said Albuquerque. That includes other Globo properties, like its 19-month old over-the-top [OTT] service Globo Play.

Albuquerque and her team have also begun looking at branded content partnerships—though slowly.

“We were very distant. We were divided in silos,” she said of the creative/advertising divide. “But now with this shift, it’s all about content. So our commercial department needs to be trained in content development.”

This story is one in a series of reports on the global impact of Brazilian media and marketing, and the legacy of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.