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Brazil's Globo: Tuning In to TV's Influence

December 26, 1987|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO — Live-in lovers Silvana and Mauricio were having romantic troubles. She was jealous of Tamyris, his ex-wife. After the inevitable quarrel, Silvana kicked Mauricio out. Predictably, he went back to Tamyris.

True to its genre, the Brazilian soap opera "Brega & Chique" dramatizes familiar conflicts of life and love. It also exemplifies the phenomenal success of Rede Globo, Brazil's predominant television network and the most pervasive private institution in this nation of 140 million people.

Rede Globo regularly chalks up the kind of market shares that U.S. television executives only dream about: One evening in November, virtually every television set that was turned on in Brazil was tuned to "Brega & Chique," according to audience surveys. It was the fifth time in recent years that Rede Globo had won a 100% share of the prime-time audience with one of its fast-moving, emotion-packed novelas, as soap operas are known here.

Globo executives like to boast that theirs is the fourth-largest commercial network in the Western world, in terms of audience size. The first three--ABC, CBS and NBC--compete among themselves in the United States, but Rede Globo, Portuguese for Globe Network, is in a class by itself.

Day in and day out, Globo commands about a 70% share of the Brazilian viewing audience, network executives say. The rest is divided among three struggling commercial networks--dwarfed by Globo--and a sprinkling of government-supported educational channels.

Brazil has an estimated 20 million television sets. The potential viewing audience of 60 million has grown rapidly as the nation has developed during the last quarter of a century.

The network was formed in the early 1960s, spreading into the far corners of a country that is nearly as big as the United States. To the remote Brazilian backlands it has brought a colorful world of sophisticated soap opera, seductive commercials and see-it-now news.

During military rule from 1964 to 1985, Rede Globo was often accused of putting its power and influence at the service of the dictatorship. And now, as Brazil moves toward full democracy, critics say Globo has established a cozy relationship with the transitional government of civilian President Jose Sarney.

"It is hard to tell who owes more favors to whom, Sarney to Rede Globo or Rede Globo to the president of the republic," commented the business magazine Senhor.

Roberto Marinho, Rede Globo's sole owner, is an astute political operator with a reputation for making his considerable leverage useful. At age 82, Marinho has become an almost legendary figure in Brazil, a South American Citizen Kane.

"He is the owner of Brazil," said Homero Sanchez, a former Globo executive. "He permits Brazil to have a president. He controls everything in this country--communications and everything."

In addition to Rede Globo, Marinho's hundreds of holdings include a major newspaper, a chain of radio stations, magazine and book publishing houses, real estate properties, electronics and telecommunications companies, mining interests and agricultural enterprises.

According to Forbes magazine, Marinho has a fortune of more than $1 billion and is one of Brazil's three wealthiest men.

Observers say Marinho's influence has been decisive in the appointment of key Cabinet members, including Army Minister Leonidas Pires Goncalves and Communications Minister Antonio Carlos Magalhaes. Gen. Goncalves' son, Miguel Pires Goncalves, is a longtime executive at Rede Globo, and Magalhaes is an old friend of Marinho.

"Roberto tells Magalhaes what he has to do, and that's it," said Sanchez, who was director of research for Globo until 1983.

Despite his advanced age, Marinho is said to be in good health. He delegates some authority to his three sons--Roberto Irineu, Joao Roberto and Jose Roberto, all in their 30s.

Marinho is a small man with a trim figure and a shiny bald head. He is said to be a workaholic, a teetotaler and a careful eater, favoring fish and vegetables. But he also enjoys the perquisites of wealth.

"He's got a yacht that's about as big as a battleship," a foreign diplomat said.

The diplomat, who closely monitors the Brazilian news media, said the key to Marinho's power is "National Journal," Rede Globo's 8 p.m. news program. Because 35 million to 50 million Brazilians watch "National Journal" each night, it can make or break a newsmaker, the diplomat said.

"It means that Roberto Marinho probably runs this country," he said.

"National Journal" is sandwiched between two Globo soap operas. Armando Nogueira, Rede Globo's director of news and sports, said the popularity of the soap operas helps augment the news show's audience.

Nogueira acknowledged that the potential influence of the network's programs is a source of power for Rede Globo and Marinho. He said Rede Globo tries to use that power with an even hand, presenting the news with impartiality and giving equal treatment to both sides of political issues.

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