Chile Culture Chile Economy slider — 19 March 2016

HBO Chile


Alana Gale and Walker Rowe

Netflix came to Chile a couple of years ago, now HBO is coming this year.

In 2010, HBO launched its streaming service HBO Go in the United States. At first it required that customers also pay for a cable subscription. But in a move that rocked the cable television business, HBO last year joined Netflix in offering access without requiring cable.

Now HBO Go is coming to Chile.  The only question is exactly when.  They already launched their service in Mexico and Colombia.  Their executives have said that the rest of Latin America is on the schedule for sometime in 2016. But they announced in October 2015 that they were coming to Colombia, yet there was a delay of several months.

While Netflix is first to market and, in fact, the only one in the market internationally, HBO could draw a lot of customers too with its 2,500 title inventory including its highly acclaimed original programming.

The biggest draw of all, of course, is “The Game of Thrones,” which is, at the moment, the most watched, pirated, and commented show in the world, according the media accounts.

Lack of Infrastructure in Chile and Local Content 

How will HBO fare in Chile?  How has Netflix done?

Chileans are far behind the USA and other developed nations in cutting the cable cord or just having a streaming service plan and cable too. The Statistics Portal shows that in 2014 only 230,000 Chileans were subscribed to Netflix’s streaming services. In contrast, 39.1 million people in the USA are signed up.

There are lots of reasons why streaming has not caught on more deeply with Chileans.  One reason it is not widely advertised—ironically Netflix would have to turn to regular TV to do that or just get the newspapers to write about their programming—and none of the popular Chilean TV series are available there.  The other issue is the lack of broadband coverage. And they need to accept debit cards.

There is high speed internet in Chile, as long as one lives in a city. But for everyone else, in Chile, whose geography is difficult, lots of people do not have even have a broadcast TV signal.  So they pay for expensive cable or satellite service. And for those who do not live where there is cable or a land line telephone there is often no cell service beyond the center of towns and along the highways.  (You can see where there is cell coverage worldwide on OpenSignal.)

Also, due to the lack of any real competition in the cellular market here there are no unlimited cellular plans, except for one rural plan offered by Entel. It is capped at 1 Mbps speed.  That is slow. You need 5 Mbps to watch Netflix in HD.  Yet that plan has unlimited data. No other cellular plan in Chile currently has unlimited data.  Most people would use up their monthly quota in only a few days.

In the USA not only can you get unlimited internet via the cellular system, it is is available at 4G/LTE speed.  In Chile there is not even 4G/LTE in most locations.  Most of the country still uses the older, slower 3G system.  4G/LTE works at an average of 20 Mbps which is even faster than the average speed of cable internet in Chile.

Chilean Local Content

On Netflix when you pick the Latin American movie category, you are offered the choices of Mexico or Argentina. There are series from those countries as well, and Colombia, plus the highly rated Gran Hotel from Spain.

Yet regular Chilean broadcast TV is not on Netflix. Plus it is in upheaval right now too.  Channels have cut popular new programs that did not have a large rating leaving educated viewers wondering where to view those.  And the flagship government channel, TVN, has laid off half their staff and replaced their director after she made some bad bets on TV series that did not do well.

There are lots of fiercely competitive channels here, like Canal 13, Chilevision, Mega, La Red, and, of course, TVN. Regarding international programming, Fox has a Latin channel and people closely follow Homeland on FX and watch HBO and series like The Big Bang Theory.

But in the last couple of years Chilean series have fallen behind imports.  Those costs less for the channels to broadcast than to make their own. TVN used to produce lots of excellent shows like, La Reserve de la Familia.  But in the past three years Mega has lead the ratings with shows imported from, of all counties, Turkey.  So TVN added a new series from Brazil rather than risk money on another flop.

Regarding watching TV online, here you can watch all of the regular channels over the internet, unlike in the USA where local affiliates would complain about that as they do not want to damage local advertising. But what you cannot do online in Chile is replay those on demand on their websites and none of the Chilean content is on Netflix, except the occasional film, like El Bosque del Karadima, about Chile’s most notorious Catholic priest child abuser.

The other thing too is those websites do not use the same streaming software as Netflix (Even though Netflix gives their software away for free.).  So their broadcast does not work well over a slow speed connection leaving a jerky viewing experience.  Netflix works great over a slow internet connection as they have figured out how to throttle the screen resolution to match the speed.

Netflix Adding Spanish Language Original Content

Netflix no longer just broadcasts content created by someone else, which is what they did for many years. Those who are familiar with the Emmy-winning The House of Cards and Orange is the New Black know that.  But now, Netflix is producing original content in languages other than English too.

The first Netflix series in Spanish was Club de Cuervos, made in Mexico.  It is a comedy about a brother and sister who inherit a popular soccer team from their father and have disagreements over how it should be run.

Netflix is now making their second Spanish language series, The Rivals. This one stars Kate del Castillo (profiled in The New Yorker here), confidant of cartel king Joaquín Guzman and actor Sean Penn whose visit to Guzman in Mexico led the police to capture the fugitive.

Because of that, the actress is having difficulty filming there as the Mexican police want to talk to her over money laundry charges related to her relationship with the drug kingpin.  So she is hanging out at her home in Los Angeles, frustrated, as The New Yorker says, over her inability to crack the American market.

Ms del Castillo has worked with Chilean TV. She starred in the series Los Dueños de Paraiso with Jorge Zabaleta, a Chilean heartthrob actor.  The series was a co-production with the American giant Telemundo and TVN Chile.  The show did not do too well in Chile, where it was kicked off prime time.  It did better in the USA Spanish language market. Now you can watch it on Netflix.

(Aside: Kate del Castillo became famous for her role in La Reina del Sur, where she played a powerful drug trafficker.  Someone should write an essay, perhaps us, about how pathetic it is that so many of the leading TV shows in Mexico have been about drug traffickers, like that show, El Cielo de Los Cielos, and others.  It perhaps shows some character flaw, dark side of that culture. Their Nobel-prize winning poet, Octavio Paz, said Mexican are obsessed with death. Mexicans should instead laud their greatest actor, Damián Alcázar, whose roles in black comedies are usually 5 star. That said, Netflix has produced an excellent series about Pablo Escobar, in English, Narcos. And there is a Spanish-language version from Colombian TV that is quite good too.)

One good thing for those who are still learning Spanish is that equal access laws and custom require that American producers add subtitles to their shows so deaf people can watch.  That means you can watch Spanish content with Spanish subtitles to help you understand that.

Finally, as another example, in France, Netflix has created Marseille starring France’s greatest, albeit faded, star Gerard Depardieu.

What are the Other Broadcasters Planning?

The international roll out of streaming TV is slowed by existing contracts between content producers and cable and broadcast firms.  You can see that as what is available on Netflix varies by country.  That lead to such odd arrangements as you cannot see the Netflix-produced House of Card in Germany on Netflix, only on broadcast TV. (This website claims to keep an updated list of what Netflix offers in each country.)

Consider the BBC.  Their programming, like Doc Watson and Mr Selfridge, is popular in the USA, where Americans tend to think that anyone with a British accent is somehow sophisticated.

The BBC has an enormous inventory of TV and film.  Trying to grow their revenue in the vast American market, the government owned broadcaster is going online in the USA. There are no announced plans to broadcast in any other country, yet.

What the BBC or any broadcaster would need to do to do that, is fix all the legal agreements, then add Portuguese and Spanish subtitles and audio and gear up to accept credit cards in local currencies since dollar-denominated credit cards or any credit card at all are hard to get for those who do not earn a lot of money.  But Netflix has solved all of that with no apparent difficultly. Although Netflix does not take Chilean debit cards.  Most Chileans only have debit cards and not bank-issued credit cards.  The only cards they have are retail store ones, which is why they have so much debt.  In Mexico, customers are allowed to go to a store and pay in cash.

The other big streaming services in the USA are Hulu and Amazon Prime.  Hulu is not going international, period. They are too closely tied to and owned by the broadcast and cable channels who fear death due to declining revenues at the hands of cable-cutting streaming customers. They already have contracts to broadcast contents all over the world on cable and satellite where they make their money from advertising.  HBO Go and Netflix do not have ads.

Amazon is also sticking with the USA market for now.  The company is notoriously tight-lipped about its future plans.  Yet they already have local versions of store in France, German, Spain, the UK, and elsewhere.  And, like Netflix, Amazon has started to produce their own series, including the hit Alpha House starring John Goodman.

Finally, ESPN is joining the movement to go online. Sling TV in the USA broadcasts that and CNN (One wonders if the Cable News Network will have to change their name.  People who witnessed the birth of that and cable television, with TBS, remember when it was called the Chicken Noodle Network.).

That ESPN is doing this, lots of analysts say, signals the ultimate death of cable TV.  (They have said that before, and it has not come to pass, yet.) But Chile is going to be some years behind with regards to the death of cable monopolies.  First, they need to install faster internet to even catch up with the status quo in Europe, the USA, and developed parts of Asia.  And then they need to sell locally-produced content to Netflix or put it online themselves so that people get used to streaming content of any kind. Then Chileans can understand that on the internet you can watch what you want to when you want to and not when the broadcasters want to show it.




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