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Brazil: Pay TV Giant Campaigns Against New Act

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

Act 12.485/11, approved by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on September 2011, which establishes new rules for pay television, has already created controversy among satellite television providers, subscribers and independent producers.

According to the Act, film and variety channels on pay television will have to dedicate three and a half hours of their weekly prime time programming to programs produced in Brazil. The Act was introduced in an attempt to diversify programming and strengthen the national production market.

But satellite television provider SKY, the biggest in Latin America, disagrees with the changes introduced by the act.

Recently, the company launched a viral campaign entitled “O Seu Controle Remoto Está Nas Mãos da ANCINE” (Your Remote Control Is In the Hands of ANCINE [Brazil's national film agency]). The campaign’s objective is to unite the 40 million Brazilians who watch pay television in support of a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality, also filed by the company.

"Hamster trying to figure out the remote control" Photo by blackpawn. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

"Hamster trying to figure out the remote control" Photo by blackpawn. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

SKY claims that:

A ANCINE está regulamento a lei 12.485/11, trazendo diversas regras, ora incoerentes, ora ilegais e inconstitucionais, afetando diretamente o direito dos consumidores e a liberdade de expressão e comunicação, prejudicando um setor que há anos investe no Brasil, sem qualquer dinheiro público e que vem crescendo de maneira espetacular.

ANCINE is regulating Act 12.485/11, bringing several rules, some incoherent, others illegal or unconstitutional, directly affecting consumers’ rights and freedom of expression and communication, harming a sector that has been investing in Brazil for years, without any public money, and which has been growing in a spectacular manner.

The company claims that because of the act, prices for pay television subscriptions will increase, sport and news content will diminish, and selection of programs will eventually be carried out by ANCINE, and not by industry professionals. The campaign also includes a video featuring several well-known volleyball and basketball players, all from teams sponsored by the company, demonstrating their discontent with the act.

ANCINE has responded to the campaign with counterclaims, affirming that:

A Lei 12.485/2011 destrava a concorrência no setor de TV paga ao permitir que as concessionárias de telefonia utilizem suas redes para fornecer serviços de TV paga. Permite, assim, que mais brasileiros tenham acesso aos serviços de televisão por assinatura e a outros serviços (…) por um preço cada vez menor.

Act 12.485/2011 stimulates competition in the pay TV sector by allowing telephone companies to utilize their networks to provide services for pay TV as well. Hence, it allows more Brazilians to have access to pay TV and other services (…) at a lower price.

The Agency also states that:

Um dos principais objetivos da Lei 12.485/2011 é aumentar a produção e a circulação de conteúdo audiovisual brasileiro, diversificado e de qualidade, gerando emprego, renda, royalties, mais profissionalismo e o fortalecimento da cultura nacional.

One of the main objectives of Act 12.485/2011 is to increase the production and circulation of diversified, high-quality Brazilian audio-visual content, creating jobs, income, royalties, more professionalism and the strengthening of national culture.

Several professionals from the industry and pay TV subscribers have also taken a stance against the campaign. The president of the Parliamentary Front in Defense of Culture, Jandira Feghali, published a note saying that:

A campanha promovida pela Sky é francamente uma disputa por reserva de mercado, camuflada pelo argumento da intervenção estatal no direito de opção do cidadão à programação. A lei não impede que seja ofertada programação estrangeira, mas conforme citei, garante espaço para as manifestações culturais brasileiras.

The campaign promoted by Sky is frankly a dispute over market share, disguised as an argument against state intervention in the citizen’s right to choice of programming. The act doesn’t stop the broadcast of foreign content, but as I mentioned, it guarantees space for Brazilian cultural manifestations.

In another note published by the National Forum for the Democratization of Communication (FNPDC), some specific points of the campaign are disputed, for example, the claim that sports and news are not considered national content. According to FNPDC,

Não é verdade. A lei considera sim esses conteúdos como nacionais, mas não impõe cotas de veiculação de esportes. Os canais de esportes não entram na conta das cotas, não têm obrigações de cotas e continuam sendo ofertados normalmente sem qualquer alteração.

That’s not true. The act considers these as national content, but doesn’t impose quotas for showings of sports. Sports channels don’t fit the quota count, and have no quota obligations and continue to be normally offered without any alteration.

Another important point is the fact that ANCINE, and hence the state, would be regulating and making decisions about national programming, in violation of the Constitution. Newton Cannito, filmmaker and writer, clarifies in an article written for the website CulturaeMercado that:

É apenas uma lei que diz que algo como 30 minutos diário deve ser de conteúdo nacional. É pouco para caramba. E a Ancine não escolhe qual conteúdo será. A TV escolhe. E todo o resto é “controlado” apenas pelo interesse comercial e é natural e saudável que seja assim. O Estado não vai ter esse poder todo.

The law merely says that something around 30 minutes per day must be national content. It’s not a lot. And Ancine doesn’t choose the content. TV chooses it. And all the rest is “controlled” only by commercial interest and it’s a natural and healthy way. The state won’t have all this power.

In the comments section, right below Newton’s article, some readers doubt that the Act would really be a step towards freedom of content. Fernanda, for example, argues that:

Não quero parecer grossa, mas, quem disse que o público de TV paga quer conteúdo nacional? (…) Eu não vou entrar no mérito de que tipo de programa cada um gosta de assistir, pois seria uma discussão interminável, mas dizer que essa lei reflete liberdade é mentira. Liberdade é pagar por um serviço e acessá-lo da forma que gostaria. Se eu quiser ver conteúdo internacional, eu vejo, se eu não quiser, mudo para um canal nacional.

I don’t want to seem rude, but, who said that the pay TV public wants national content? (…) I’m not going to discuss what type of program each person likes to watch because it would be a never-ending discussion, but to say that this act reflects freedom is a lie. Freedom is to pay for a service and access it in the way I would like to. If I want to watch foreign content, I watch, and if not, I change it to a national channel.

Pay TV has been growing rapidly in Brazil, and in 2011, the Brazilian Association of Pay TV Providers (ABTA) estimated that the sector has grossed R$14,6 billion (US$8.58 billion), and created more the 90,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly. As at the third quarter of 2011, there were 12 million pay TV subscribers, and numbers have been growing year after year. For professionals in the industry, such growth represents an opportunity to generate ever more employment and a national cultural identity on pay TV, where the latter currently has little relevance.

Some shows have utilized online media to promote themselves, hoping to obtain production incentives through this new act. Such is the case of a fiction series called 3%, which is one of the winners of a competition launched by the Ministry of Culture to support the production of fiction series for TV. 3% “shows an unrealistic world, where competition for labor is institutionalized in a cruel process. Only 3% of the youth succeed, and the selection process puts them in extreme situations of humiliation, fear, stress and dilemma” (with English subtitles):

A public consultation on society’s impressions about the Direct Action of Unconstitutionality launched by SKY was open until March 3, 2012.

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