TV has traditionally been one of the main telecommunication media, and even though state intervention has made many Venezuelans abandon it, it is still the most used. Until 2004 there existed only one state-owned television channel, while there were already six in 2013. Nowadays TV is the most government-controlled medium. One of the most determinant moments of the television scenario in Venezuela was the removal of the broadcasting permission of RCTV (Radio Caracas Televisión), one of the main private broadcasters, by the Chavez government which gave the license to Televisora Venezolana Social (Venezuelan Social TV - TVES), a state-influenced channel. Since then, many private television companies without a pro-government line have been bought by groups with a more favourable view of the government. The huge presence of Hugo Chávez first and Nicolás Maduro later and their messages (known as cadenas, meaning ‘chains’) in the radio and television stations, cutting the original programming without further advise, must be added to understand the influence the government has in the open television media in Venezuela and why people are losing confidence and interest in open broadcasters. These messages are compulsory according to the law and none of the open stations can reject broadcasting them.
The cutting of signals, the censorship of programmes or conductors (Rodríguez, 2018) and the blockade of TV stations, including international ones, such as the Colombian Caracol TV and RCN or CNN in Spanish (Buitrago & Pons, 2017), have been common measures taken by Conatel under the Ley de Responsabilidad Social de Radio y Televisión (RESORTE, as will be explained in Media legislation). Many opposition parties and supporters have abandoned television media, which offer a very weak representation of everything outside of the government’s view. Traditional television is still most popular among government supporters. Although some private stations show the opposite perspective, they often offer, even when not censored, biased or politicised information. In fact, more than half of the TV stations in Venezuela are state-owned or pro-governmental, and the remaining ones have a self-censorship editorial line.
Television in its different forms is used by 51 percent (according to Hinterlaces; in Pinillos, 2018) or 43.9 percent of Venezuelans (according to Delphos) as their main source of information. It is the most commonly used medium for both genders, for urban and rural people and for every age and socio-economic group. People from the lowest income level, who cannot access cable or subscription television –although the illegal redistribution of the service in some poor neighborhoods is relevant–, as well as youths and urban people with a stronger use of digital and social media, are the least interested in television. The lack of independent and reliable information and the already mentioned cadenas have made many viewers mistrust open television, increasing the demand of cable television, that reached 68 percent of homes in 2016 (Castro, 2016), and the use of subscription and digital television, although the precarious condition of infrastructures and the increase of the prices of cable and subscription television (Santistevan, 2020) have made it difficult for these options to spread. A survey conducted by DatinCorp in 2016 showed how open television was the preferred platform to find political information for 26 percent of people, showing a clear decrease, and closely followed by cable and satellite TV (23 percent), which include international channels, such as CNN en Español or the Spanish TVE and Antena 3. According to Conatel (2019), more than 45 percent of the subscribers of pay TV are clients of the US company DirecTV, followed by the telecommunication companies Intercable (13.79%) and the state-controlled CanTV (12.05%). These figures, however, will change after the closing of DirecTV in May 2020, due to the prohibition of the US Government for some companies to conduct business in Venezuela.
In general, television stations in Venezuela can be open or under subscription; the first ones can be public (VTV, ViVe or TVes, joined under the already mentioned Sistema Bolivariano de Comunicación e Información) and private stations (Venevisión, Televen or Globovisión), as well as national or regional ones. Biggest players in the market of paid television are the main telecommunications providers (see chapter 5.2) as well as Internet television, either Venezuelan channels like VIVOplay, VPI TV or Capitolio TV or international competitors such as Netflix. Internet television (or IPTV) demands a smart TV, which is why it is still limited to big cities and usually only to wealthier groups of people. Its extension and development are also slowed down due to the poor quality of telecommunications, but the number of users has still increased in the last years as it is one of the main spaces for voices critical with the government of Maduro. It is also one of the most popular ways to access international channels, both for more independent information or for entertainment contents.
One last interesting case that should be highlighted is TeleSur, present in different Latin-American countries, with headquarters in Caracas, whose goal is the “integration of Latin-American people and to counter the biased information coming from the North [meaning the USA]” as its creators define it (Arcila, 2005). It is another example of politicisation of television in Venezuela.
Despite the lack of trust and the strong politicisation of its contents, television is still very popular as an entertainment media. It is broadly extended, reaching practically the whole country, although some small or isolated zones need cable television as the open signal hardly reaches them (El Nacional, 2020). The variety of programs and channels makes it possible to find a very customised offer for different groups of people. There are no channels especially focused on indigenous people or minorities, but some programs are increasing their use of sign language for deaf people and in general the contents related with indigenous groups have an adequate presence in Venezuelan television, mainly in public channels. There exists a law, the Ley de Idiomas Indígenas, that forces all kinds of media to create adequate spaces for the promotion of these languages. There are also some channels controlled by religious groups, such as the Christian TV Familia.