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Novela-soap comparison: more than meets the eye.

Culebrones (snakes) is what some of the Latins call their telenovelas those voluminous (up to 200 hours) soap operas in Spanish. They represent Latin America's only significant TV export. During the past few years, telenovelas have begun giving U.S. soaps a real run for their money, particularly in Europe.

But obviously, the telenovelas are also much in demand by Hispanic audiences in the U.S., where they are the dominant fare of the two main Spanish-language networks: Univision and Telemundo.

None of the telenovelas have made it on to a U.S. English network to date. However, there are timid beginnings, where independent stations feel they should service the steadily growing Latin community in their area, particularly if neither of the over-the-air Spanish-language networks have extended their reach there.

But is abroad, and particularly in Europe, that telenovelas are experiencing astonishing growth and an intensified popularly. Spain, Italy, France and even Germany have taken to the long-running, emotional, romantic and dramatically-charged tales, which they either dub from Spanish or subtitle.

Telenovela production from six Latin American countries should run to a staggering 75000 hours this year, with Venezuela the most prolific producer of the soaps (around 1700 hours), followed by Brazil, Mexico, Columbia and Chile. Surprisingly, Argentina rates at the bottom of the list.

American sales executives who handle U.S. soaps in Europe acknowledge that telenovelas are beginning to shape up as formidable competition. This is partly due to their basic budget being so much lower than the American product (around $20,000 to $30,000 an hour vs. about $150,000 for the U.S. series). Also, production values are rising in Latin America.

In fact, telenovelas are becoming more elaborate, as their producers are going on location and increasingly engage in co-productions. Their popularity is thus generating significant programming changes. For instance, in Spain and Italy, the popularity of the novelas has created a new afternoon "prime time'.

There is a significant difference between the American soaps and their Latin counterparts. U.S. soaps, which can be hugely successful abroad (as witness New World International's Santa Barbara and The Bond and the Beautiful), run on as long as the traffic will bear.

Telenovelas are pre-written to a pre-determined length, which tends to make for more compact story lines. "You can tune into a telenovela at any time during its run and identify with the story," said Coral's Sheila Hall. "They have a beginning, a middle and an end."

According to Jim McNamara, New World's soap often capture first and second place on European schedules, though he acknowledged that it was "a tough road." Still, New World may acquire more soaps this year. McNamara left that the Latins should be pleased with their growing share of the market, which now ranges from Greece up to Scandinavia. The Bold and the Beautiful is just beginning to penetrate the difficult Latin markets.

When the stars of Hollywood soaps are toured in Europe, they get enormous space and are often mobbed by fans, related New World's Jerry Zanitsch. Proctor & Gamble, a major producer of long-running soaps like Guiding Light, Another World and As The World Turns, reported that the popularity of its soaps overseas continues unabated. A P&G executive said that her company was turning out its soaps at a (low) cost of "about $100,000" per hour, and that the company was running soap opera production as " a profit center."

The American soaps continue to essentially dominate the market. Columbia International, for instance, is doing well with soaps like The Young and the Restless in 30 countries, but not in Latin America.

"British soaps tend to be a very British affair and therefore aren't outstanding export items," says David Liddiment, who is the man in charge of Granada's entertainment programming and supervisor of production for their soaps.

"What you call 'soap operas' is what we call 'serial drama' - a very popular staple of British television," Liddiment noted.

Two Australian soaps - Neighbors and Home and Away - are very popular on the BBC, the latter particularly with the younger audience sector.
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Title Annotation:Latin-American soap operas challenging U.S. exports on foreign screens
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:TV buying helping budget crunch; inventory replenished.
Next Article:TV in Argentina has a stabilizing growth.

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