Article Digital

The Unique Power of Telenovelas

Jul 28, 2011

Non-Hispanics often think of telenovelas as the Latin American version of the U.S. soap opera, like General Hospital. Or they compare them to primetime dramas like Grey’s Anatomy or The Good Wife.  In fact, the telenovela genre is distinct, and it’s those differences that make it such a powerful and beloved form of drama. Today, a little novela education.

Like English-language soap operas, telenovelas are usually shown five days a week, capturing viewers’ attention as the story progresses, day by day.  But where English-language soap operas continue indefinitely, telenovelas have a limited run. The typical telenovela has about 120 episodes. Compare that with All My Children, which will have aired almost 11,000 episodes from 1970 -2011.  This condensed format means that telenovelas avoid the cast changes, multiple marriages (10 for Susan Lucci’s Erika Kane!) and contrived plots that make the soap opera genre so easy to mock. With 120 episodes, shot and aired over just a few months, the best telenovelas capture viewers’ attention throughout the story arc and build to a dramatic finale.

Look at the numbers for Univision’s Eva Luna. The show launched November 1, 2010 with an audience of 1.8 million Adults 18-49.   When it reached its finale on April 11, 2011, the audience had swelled to 3.5 million.

The primetime English-language dramas don’t try to pump out as many episodes as the daytime soaps, but still have the problem of sustaining viewer interest over multiple seasons. The phrase “jump the shark” was coined just to describe that phenomenon of a long-time TV series losing steam and resorting to stunts.

Take the case of Yo soy Betty, la fea and its English-language remake, Ugly Betty. When Yo soy Betty, la fea ran on TeleFutura in 2009, the final four-week audience among Adults 18-49 was 34% higher than the initial four-week audience. Ugly Betty started out strong on ABC but struggled in the ratings, falling from an average of 5.6 million Adult-18-49 viewers in its first season in 2006/07 to 2.4 million viewers in its fourth (and final) season.

Advertisers know that the more deeply involved viewers are in a television program, the more they like it and connect with it, the more strongly they will respond to the commercials in that show. Telenovelas offer that unique power to capture and hold viewers’ attention.

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