Anderson Antunes, Contributor
Now that Youtube has officially replaced the MTV generation in terms of cultural heft, production companies from all over the globe are popping up to create content for the video site owned by Google GOOG -0.49%. In Brazil, where the entertainment industry grows at a steady annual rate of 20%, it’s no different. Brazil’s so-called “Youtube moguls” are growing up and attracting big advertisers in direct competition with broadcast and cable TV industries.
Take for instance the production company turned into Youtube channel Porta dos Fundos (“Backdoor,” in English). First launched as a Youtube channel nine months ago, Porta dos Fundos now has roughly 3.5 million subscribers and counts 300 million video views.
In addition to that the site has a staff of 34 employees, owns its headquarters and produces about 10 original sitcom-style videos a month (not including some custom-made videos for companies like FIAT, Visa V +0.58% and LG, which are uploaded by the companies themselves) and draws an average of 24 million video views a month (that’s about four times the monthly audience ofFunny Or Die, the US comedy website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and funded by Sequoia Capital and other investors, who have backed itwith at least $15 million).
With the help of a growing roster of advertisers, Porta dos Fundos is actually turning a profit: companies willing to make fun of themselves in a way that they wouldn’t do on broadcast TV pay up to a reportedly $100,000 per video.
It all started with a short video called “Fast Food,” which sarcastically poked fun at the customer treatment of Spoleto, a Brazilian chain of fast-food Italian restaurants known for its not-so-customer-friendly attendants. The video went viral, and was seen by Antonio Moreira Leite, Spoleto’s head of marketing. Instead of making a fuss about it, Moreira Leite saw in it a good opportunity to promote the brand and improve the customer experience.
“The guys at Porta dos Fundos proved that companies that don’t pay attention to what their customers say about them end up becoming jokes. People used to say that an unhappy customer was expensive because he would spread his dissatisfaction to other 20 people. Today a complaint can reach 1 million people on Youtube,” Moreira Leite told O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.
After the incident, Spoleto partnered up with Porta dos Fundos to launch a series of videos with the slogan “What Shouldn’t Happen, But Sometimes It’s Beyond Our Control.” “We saw their potential and we immediately knew we should join them,” Moreira Leite said.
That’s what FIAT did, too. The Italian car maker ordered three videos (9 million views and counting) to promote its 11-year leadership in the Brazilian market. Patricia Pessoa, FIAT’s chief of marketing in Brazil, watched the videos after they were finished and approved them all on the spot.
Porta dos Fundos has a similar format to that of Funny Or Die, but unlike its American counterpart, which has its own platform for videos, Porta dos Fundos is not open to the idea of having an outsider as a business partner. “We have no intention of selling a stake in our company. We want to keep it as an independent production company,” Fabio Porchat, one of the five comedians who created Porta dos Fundos, told FORBES by phone. The other co-creators are Antonio Pedro Tabet, Gregorio Duvivier, Joao Vicente de Castro and Ian SBF, all of whom act in and write the videos.
“We have a good audience on Youtube and we make money with our videos and sponsors. We are fully able to fund ourselves now from the financial market,” said Porchat, who has asserted that, in spite of Google’s plan to launch paid subscription to some video channels, he and his partners will not charge for content. “We are a free channel and we will remain like that.” Porchat also stated that the business relationship with Google is “very good,” what could reserve something interesting for both sides in the future (in 2011, Google paid south of $50 million for Next New Networks, a Web video production company like Porta dos Fundos).
Inevitably, the brand extensions have begun: a weekly series co-produced with a major network is already in talks, a movie and a book are in development, and so is a DVD, and low-budget themed items such as T-shirts will be sold through licensing deals. At the very last, Porta dos Fundos has managed to harness the explosion of comedy on the Web–particularly in Brazil–and give it a professional coat of paint and some business cachet.
Should the traditional TV industry in Brazil considered itself warned? As more and more programming migrates online, television in the South American nation is changing from a world of a few channels to thousands of them available on Youtube. Google, which is long trying to move beyond short, quirky home videos to professionally produced content, is smart to capitalize on that movement, but is watching videos from a computer screen what most people look for when they settle in on the couch?
Porchat, who’s also the star of a Brazilian blockbuster movie that premiered in March, doesn’t think so. “Ultimately these are different medias that are complementing each other. What we do looks good on Youtube, but wouldn’t work on TV,” he said, citing the chance to really control his own creative and production process as the reason to his and his Porta dos Fundos’ co-owners success.
“We have been approached by many networks, including Globo [Brazil’s leading broadcaster] to talk about producing something like what we do online for them, but we don’t see our style working on broadcast television. Freedom is essential for us, and that’s what the internet is all about. Once you go broadcast you lose some of that.”
Improving its original programming is crucial for YouTube, which faces competition from Web video services like Hulu, iTunes, Netflix NFLX -2.97% and Aereo. For its part, Google, which is trying to popularize its Google TV service, needs more Web video that people will watch for hours at a time.
Porchat and his mates in Brazil may have found a way to achieve that—it’s wit, with fast storytelling and a que sera sera touch, perfectly suited to the internet.