By Omar Mendez*
The Southern Cone — made up of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay — perfectly illustrates how different regions of Latin America can be. Each one is distinct from its neighbors. These differences also extend to television. In reality, the concept of “Latin American television” doesn’t exist. These days, the only things they have in common are COVID-19 and streaming. COVID, of course, has impacted every economy across the globe. And streaming reduces audiences for traditional television viewing.
Despite the pandemic, the year that just ended showed a partial recovery of broadcasting in the region, with larger audiences and 35 percent growth in ad spend.
But what opportunities do international content distributors have in these countries in 2022?
Not many, unfortunately. Except for television stations in Paraguay, a country with very little of its own production and much in need of foreign ready-made content, the broadcasters of the other three countries have shown little willingness to invest in finished products. Why? Mainly due to the high costs of production and their limited budgets.
The Argentine broadcasting market, the largest in this region, is the one experiencing the most critical situation. With the economy and the value of its currency in free fall (50 percent annual inflation and an increasingly devalued peso), and the consequent reduction in advertising investment, free-to-air television stations have had to use extreme creativity to win over audiences and advertisers.
Throughout 2021, Telefe, a TV network owned by ViacomCBS, stayed on top for its 10th consecutive year, something unprecedented in the history of Argentine TV. The formats MasterChef Celebrity and La Voz Argentina were its biggest winners in primetime. The Turkish soap opera Doctor Milagro was also a hit. These three shows had the highest ratings of the year
Coming second was el trece — channel 13 from the Clarín Group — followed by Canal 9, a TV station that was supposedly “stolen” from the American businessman Remigio González. In fourth place was Canal America.
Reality shows, current affairs series, and a variety of in-house production abounded.
With an average annual inflation of 6.5 percent, the situation with the Chilean economy not only differs markedly from its Andean neighbor, but it is also the most stable and healthy in the entire Latin American region. Until September, advertising investment had climbed up more than 35 percent as compared to 2020, the year hardest hit by the pandemic. And of that total, almost 33 percent went to free-to-air television stations. Projections are positive for the market, despite the difficult start to this year due to the Omicron strain.
Chilevisión, the television station that ViacomCBS acquired from WarnerMedia, was the national leader in 2021, followed by Mega, TVN, Canal 13, and La Red.
Current affairs programs (such as the live broadcasts of the soccer World Cup Qualifiers, and the news and political coverage during the Chilean presidential election) were the most watched, followed by reality shows (including MasterChef Celebrity), then soap operas, a genre that continues to be a ratings juggernaut.
Uruguay’s broadcast TV sector is experiencing the international phenomenon of the success of reality shows. In a country with a stable economy (annual inflation of eight percent) and advertising investment that’s still recovering from 2020, national broadcasting has turned to large-scale international entertainment formats to fill its most valuable time slots, complementing the schedules with local current affairs programs.
As for the success of reality shows — that didn’t happen overnight. It was a process that took seven years, underpinned by the country’s leading station, Canal 10. MasterChef, the first local version produced by the station, has been a great success. Based on that experience, the channel multiplied its contest formats in primetime with Go Talent, Who Want to Be a Millionaire?, several versions of MasterChef with both amateurs and celebrities, La Peluquería de Don Mateo, Polémica en el Bar, and national formats such as Sonríe.
The trend was replicated by Canal 10 competitor Canal 12 with Grillmaster and Canal 4 with The Great British Bake Off.
In-house production of formats has also been a key element that has allowed for Uruguay’s broadcast television sector to increase its production standards.
Paraguay is the country that differs from them all in terms of television challenges and audience tastes in the Southern Cone. The main television stations lean towards ready-made international programs to fill the main time slots of their line-ups. This market is the opposite of the Uruguayan market. It has little taste for local production. The leader of national broadcasting, Telefuturo, is a prime example. Its primetime slots are loaded with dramas, mainly Turkish ones. Together with its sister channel, latele, it gathers most of its daily audience with its international series offerings.
Paraguay closed 2021 with an inflation rate of 6.8 percent, and with advertising investment that was higher than in 2020.
*Omar Mendez (pictured above) is the editor-in-chief of the Miami, Florida-based The Daily Television and VideoAge‘s contributor from Buenos Aires.