Brazil: Digital TV project inspires Latin America

September 2, 2013


The project helps to further reduce the digital divide


  • An interactive digital TV pilot helps 100 families and their neighbors in northeast Brazil to save time and money and as well as helping them to access public services.
  • The project, supported by the World Bank, furthers efforts to reduce the digital divide and has already won international awards.
  • Conclusions from the pilot were presented recently at the 4th Latin American Forum on Public Media, which took place in Brasilia.

In the 1950s, when television first appeared in Brazil and the TV set was already exclusively for the elite, a slang expression quickly became popular: “televizinho” [TV neighbor]. It refers to those neighbors who go to a house with a TV to watch the program together.

The expression gained a new meaning following a Brazil Communication Company (EBC in Portuguese) project working with 100 families in three poor neighborhoods in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. The state universities in Paraiba (UFPB) and Santa Catarina (UFSC), along with the Brasilia Catholic University (UCB) also took part in the initiative.

In these homes, with an average income of R$300 (US$125) a month, they installed digital TV aerials. These allowed the families to watch interactive programs which taught them how to apply for documents (for example, ID cards or work permits); get information about jobs, courses and Bolsa Familia (a social assistance program); and to better look after their health or their finances.

The project and its results were presented in Brasilia during the 4th International Forum on Public Media, organized by the World Bank and EBC, which touched upon the challenge of creating quality content for public media in Latin America.

" The TV has a guide which shows how to interact with it, it’s very easy. When I saw the job channel, I was able to get more information, I redid my CV and I found formal employment "

Josias Job Mariano

Project beneficiary

Economic advantages

A study undertaken by academic consultants revealed that 83% of the people who watched the interactive programs saw economic benefits. The main one, cited by 64% of the beneficiaries, was being able to save money when it came to accessing public services.

“I called a 68 year old neighbor so she could come and watch TV with me, and she seemed interested,” Marta Gomes recalls, a new fan of the health programs. “She didn’t receive any government benefit because she didn’t know that she was eligible. She ran to subscribe when she saw a woman on TV taking part in the social programs.”

“The TV has a guide which shows how to interact with it, it’s very easy,” explains 27-year old Josais Job Mariano. “When I saw the job channel, I was able to get more information, I redid my CV and I found formal employment.”

André Barbosa, Support Director for EBC praises the results: “The idea was to see whether interactive digital TV is a viable option for those Brazilians who are excluded from the world of tablets and smartphones.”

“The development of terrestrial digital TV has given us a unique opportunity to democratize the management of these TV systems, sharing them with the most diverse sectors of society and, in this way, building a more equal broadcast system,” explained Sergio Jellinek, Communications Manager for the World Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean.

An award-winning example

These principals inspired the EBC to create a digital platform available nationwide (albeit with local characters and accents) which will broadcast interactive content to all public televisions in Brazil.

The challenges will also be taken into account. Many families, for example, are afraid of breaking the television sets – which were installed for 3 months – and of getting a more expensive electricity bill. Others worry about losing their Bolsa Familia benefits just by checking (or not) the relevant information for courses and jobs.

The experiences of Brazil and the lessons learnt during the pilot phase will also help to inspire similar initiatives in other Latin American countries where they are working to produce public media to strengthen citizen participation.

The project ‘Brazil 4D’ has twice received awards. Recently it won the Television Engineering Society (SET in Portuguese) trophy. It also received an honorable mention in New York for the 2013 Innovation and Creativity in TV award.

The jury for this last award included:

  • David Poltrack, Head of Research for US channel CBS
  • Eduardo Olano from Atres Advertising in Spain
  • Roberto Franco, President of the Brazilian Digital TV Forum and Director of SBT
  • Marcello Cuneo, President of ATV in Peru
  • Antonio José Gómez, Commercial Vice President for RCN in Colombia
  • Carlos Coello, TC President of Ecuador Television
  • Ernesto Monasterio from Unitel in Bolivia
  • Lorena Sánchez from Medcom in Panama