Television

"Telenovelas are now more like a multi-story showcase" : Jose Escalante - RCTV International GM & VP

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The telenovela format is going from strength to strength in India and across the globe. RCTV International, the distribution arm of RCTV, which claims to be Venezuela's largest media company, is looking to penetrate the Indian market with a slew of telenovela products. Love, passion, revenge, ambition and intrigue are the tantalising themes that the telenovela genre deals with

Last year RCTV International sold the show My Sweet Fat Valentina to Star. This was adapted as Dekho Magar Pyar Se and was produced by Shrey Guleri. It has also sold Juana’s Miracle to Sony. In total RCTV has 11 shows whose formats are for sale.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with RCTV International GM and VP Jose Escalante for a lowdown on the company's activities.

Could you give me an overview of RCTV International and the products that you distribute?

RCTV International shares a legacy of more than 50 years of history with RCTV Venezuela, its mother company and one of the first commercial television stations in South America. Supported by half a century of family history and more than a quarter century of its own, RCTV International offers a range of product that includes those of other prestigious producers in the region, such as UCTV Canal 13 (Chile), the RCN (Colombia) catalogue for Asia and Alomi Productions (Peru).

RCTV has strongly fostered the distribution of telenovelas is at the top of its product list. Among our main assets are telenovela scripts, its stories, always successful with the audience.

Today, RCTV International owns one of the most important archives in the continent. We have also extended their reach by adding formats and co-productions to this offer. They have added cable and satellite to their client mix and pursue new challenges and opportunities that will strengthen and consolidate their global aim in this era of digital communications that has just begun.

How do you view India as a market for your products?

We look at India with much attention as it is a world of programming opportunities. The market is huge and with much growth potential in its broadcast platform via Free TV, Cable and Satellite.

We not only see an opportunity for local productions based on foreign telenovela titles or storylines but we also see a great broadcast potential for the finished product. India, though culturally different, has an international exposure to European lifestyles and mind conceptualisation which offers a valuable opportunity for the finished product from abroad.

It is a parallel road that we will walk indeed and have a positive vision about it. Our products are developed based on a diverse array of storylines and they have already experienced a solid acceptance in India. We have developed strong entertainment concepts and they work.

Besides India which are the other Asian markets that you growth potential in?

RCTV International provides Telenovela entertainment solutions. Our mission implies that we search for opportunities in providing this service in every country within the region, small or large. We have great ties with major corporations in the TV industry in every country and to name our platforms of operation would not make much sense.

With regards to growth potential, it becomes mandatory to name China. The conditions are unique and they do not only relate to television opportunities but to major concepts and trends taking place in China. China is a complex region from a regulatory angle but a friendly TV partner. This perception is much preferred by us as with the right partner complex issues can be worked out efficiently.

What are the reasons for the success of the telenovela genre?

The concept has accomplished the golden rule. Love stories with enough comedy, romance and suspense to create entertainment and more entertainment for the whole family. Cinderella stories where dreams come true have done well over the years.

Could you give me examples of how RCTV telenovela storylines are modified to suit audiences tastes in a particular country?

It is worth mentioning that we develop storylines that are multi-region friendly. The one country concept is not our cup of tea in our core business.

With this in mind, we carefully develop international versions of the original format which differ from the original only in aspects subject to censorship such as degrees in violence or sensuality to give a few examples. Again, these are matters we give careful attention to but RCTV International would not consider it as a storyline modification when managing those differently country to country.

"We develop international versions of the original format which differ from the original only in aspects subject to censorship"

What are the factors you keep in mind while trying to establish a long term relationship with a client?

The service we are giving our clients has become ever more sophisticated and customised. Over the years, we have learned to read the markets and our clients' media. 25 years ago or more, we launched our product to the world. We don't do that today; we launch to regions, to specific countries.

We have learned to think like our clients and today we see TV the way programmers do in each territory. It is necessary that we understand that each country is different, that there is a different strategy for each one. If we produce a brochure or a demo – or a promotional campaign – we do it for each specific client. Today we manage to identify the product for each particular client.

The traditional novela is that of a poor girl falling in love with the rich man and living happily ever after. Are the telenovelas that you are selling going beyond that?

Your question is built upon an element considered to be a classic. A proven formula of entertainment attention which has worked across boundaries. A classic never goes away.

Nevertheless, it can be seen that new production developments no longer carry this classic element by itself. Nowadays, telenovelas are more complex. This means that the main story line competes with secondary ones built in the telenovela.

Telenovelas are now more like a multi-story showcase rather than one strong concept extended over time. Telenovelas carry much more flexibility and options in terms of master story. Our portfolio is a big mirror of this trend. We rolled out our 2005 Catalogue with more than 10 different titles and each one of them is a package of stories that competes in a fair game with the others.

To give you an example Brujas is a suspenseful drama involving a man who wants to be surrounded by women. Therefore he establishes a company that enables women to be trained so that they can be employed as household help. Later on he gets married but dies that same night. Five women are suspects in his death which may not be an accident after all though he has a happy smile planted on his face.

Another product Micel brings in the theme of a career oriented business woman. The title character decides to take over the running of her father's company as she suspects that a conspiracy is being hatched against it. She believes that she will be able to protect what her father built while staying true to her own principles.

However, she keeps her identity a secret from the other workers as she wants to work her way to the top without being given special favours. The plot gets interesting when she is singled out for attention by three men.

How have telenovelas that feature working women been received in conservative countries where the man is viewed as being the chief bread winner?

Asia has not made this an issue with our telenovelas.

When a popular telenovela comes to an end how difficult is it to get the audience interested in the new product that will replace it?

That is precisely what we capitalise on. The popular telenovela reaching an end becomes a golden key for a next broadcast. It works for us since our productions are not extensions of previous ones. All of our stories are original productions.

In other words, we hit the audience with a concept. However when the time arrives for a next title in the broadcast pipeline this new broadcast will not be an emulation of the previous one with a different name. We steer away from a concept or storyline overdose and that’s when we enter with our storyline diversity that is a signature element in our portfolio.

What are the ways in which twists can be added to the novella narrative to make it fresh?

That is part of the knowledge of our writers, producers and the best way to describe it is to look at our most recent Telenovelas like Juana's Miracle, Extravagant Anastasia, Machos, Brujas, My Sweet Fat Valentina. All of them are unique though they still maintain the genre within itself.

"Telenovelas are gradually being used more and more as communication vehicles for a better expected behavioural change"

Could you talk about the manner in which the female characters in your telenovellas have gotten more sensual and complex over the years?

Our marketing analysts found that Telenovelas were adding more male viewers each day. Therefore, we decided to include these changes to maintain and to continue growing the male audience; though, our main target are the females and the entire family.

Does product placement work well for a tele-novella?

It depends on what the producer wants to accomplish. We have done it in the past and it has provem to be financially acceptable.

However, the product placement has to be included on the programmes so that it does not affect negatively the Telenovela and the advertising/publicity of the channel broadcasting it. It is a complex matter that requires a lot of work.

Could you talk about how the production values of RCTV’s telenovelas has gone up?

Our telenovelas are entertainment products. This is the reason why our catalogue provides a good representation of contemporary issues captured by the production values.

Telenovelas in their modern times not only entertain an audience with main and secondary story lines but they are gradually being used more and more as communication vehicles for a better expected behavioural change. We see that concepts intended for a better well being of social groups are being explored and are given room within new productions.

Finally what measures is RCTV International taking to expand its inventory?

We have added other catalogues to our extensive one, those of Universidad Católica - UCTV (Chile), RCN's (Colombia) products for Asia and Alomi Productions' (Peru), as well as the Australian Children TV Foundation's catalogue of animation and family series.

We are currently considering and negotiating additional catalogues, in order to always provide our clients with new options. We want to accompany the telenovela with other products in demand, as is the case with animation and movies.

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