Dateline Lisbon, Portugal: First port of call for a lucrative media market

A GLANCE at Portugal's stock market high-flyers in recent years suggests that a good way to make money in this apparently low-key and prudent society is to invest in melodramatic television soap operas and glossy magazines devoted to fashion, interior design and arty leisure style.

The Portuguese, despite their reputation for dour melancholy - especially compared with their noisier Iberian neighbours - cannot get enough of these frivolous delights. And dishing them up in spades is a roaringly successful media group whose latest creations are being orchestrated by a Brit.

"For decades the Portuguese were politically and economically starved of leisure and entertainment media. Now they are bounding ahead, catching up on all the fun things they missed out on for so long," says Anthony Smith, 37, a Mancunian settled in Lisbon, who devised and launched two successful magazines in the past two years and has others up his sleeve.

Once cowed by poverty and dictatorship, Portugal has blossomed into a prosperous EU member that joined the euro with its Maastricht criteria in order. It is as if a maiden aunt had kicked up her skirts to begin what Mr Smith calls "an incredible, startling transformation".

The liberating spirit is still largely Lisbon-based: much of rural Portugal remains stuck in its ways. "But one of the advances brought by EU membership in 1986 was the building of a national road network that shrunk the whole country. So the capital is more accessible than it ever used to be," says Mr Smith.

Portugal always had a great deal of style, and a vibrant craft tradition in ceramics, glassware, wrought iron and textiles. With the new prosperity, the trick was to infuse new ideas into old skills and popularise a culture of good taste. A huge new market based on this idea opened with such success that Lisbon can now match Barcelona as a mecca for international cool.

Anthony Smith began his career as an agency journalist who, when urged by his bosses to move on to other postings, opted to break free and stay in Lisbon. "I guess I was in the right place at the right time. I always wanted to be in magazines, and I'm very interested in style."

The flagship glossy Maxima, launched 10 years ago, saw off many competitors to become Portugal's top-selling women's monthly, the only truly home- grown product in the field. "It built up such a successful advertising base, particularly in cosmetics and beauty products, that the owners decided to cash in on the Maxima name and launch related magazines to dilute fixed costs and diversify the type of advertising and clients," Mr Smith says.

Under Maxima's wing, two years ago he launched Interiores, a slick and cheerful monthly guide to decorating and furnishing your home with good taste and little money. Last October, City, a colourful monthly review of arts and entertainment was launched. Both caught on instantly with their target A/B audience.

"In the last four years there's been a boom in anything to do with design and decor, with more houses, more people buying rather than renting, and wanting guidance on how to do up their new properties stylishly without spending a fortune," Mr Smith says. "They've become more culturally aware and, with more money around, they want to take time off to have fun."

Mr Smith's tiny office, packed with mountains of papers, is scarcely more luxurious than his former poky newsroom above a nightclub - apart from the glorious view over the glinting Tagus estuary. At the end of a narrow corridor is a bright, but leanly staffed, production room, jumping with youngsters hurtling to meet this month's deadline while languidly consuming ice lollies.

The three magazines are part of the holding company Investec - one of the best performing companies on Portugal's stock market. Investec, whose profits have more than tripled in the past four years, also has interests in Portugal's top sports daily, Record - the country's most widely read daily newspaper - and the phenomenally successful private television company, SIC.

Through a preferential deal struck four years ago with the Brazilian Globo company, SIC cornered the market in imported Brazilian soap operas - high-class melodramas that dominate Portugal's prime-time viewing. SIC sought to make the Portuguese housewife switch on her television after lunch and stay until bedtime. Most of the nation is in thrall to hour- long doses of Capital Sin, Smooth Poison and My Good Love that sprawl back-to-back across the schedules, outscoring even football in popularity.

SIC's overwhelming dominance has eased slightly under the onslaught of competition from other television companies, but it remains one of the most successful companies in Portugal and a valuable cash cow for new publishing ventures.

Investec, which owns 25 per cent of SIC, is part of a wide-ranging leisure and media empire controlled by the buccaneering entrepreneur Jose "Joe" Berardo. A burly bear of a man, shy of making public statements, he started out as a tobacco baron in Madeira before decamping to South Africa where he made a fortune as a commodity trader during the apartheid years.

Returning to Portugal some 10 years ago, Mr Berardo - who has a reputation as a swashbuckling rough diamond - sought to re-establish himself. He formed a partnership with a man who is in every way his opposite: the pint-size, cultured and histrionic Francisco Capelo, a financial whizzkid - Mr Berardo's former broker - turned art connoisseur, who is chairman of Investec and the artistic inspiration behind its proliferating publications.

The combination of Mr Berardo's fortune and Mr Capelo's eye created within a few years a $60m (pounds 38m) collection of post-1945 European art housed in the Modern Art Museum that opened two years ago in Sintra, near Lisbon. And this month saw the inauguration of Lisbon's Design Museum as the showcase for Mr Capelo's collection of 600 design classics from the 1940s to today.

Anthony Smith, nervy newshound and hands-on editor, shamelessly plunders for Interiores and City the design ideas and social buzz surrounding these explosions upon the Portuguese art world. The preposterously divergent three-man team, with their regular attendance at fashion shows and gala dinners at the presidential palace, exude a heady glamour. But their icily conceived, no-frills business formula is, according to Diego Hernando, director of one of Portugal's largest stockbrokers, Midas, "very intelligent and stunningly successful".

Mr Smith says he is in contact with German and British publishing groups about future projects, without specifying what these might be. But he admits that health and fitness, and men's magazines, remain undeveloped in Portugal's lucrative media market. Which should convince those eager to turn a profitable euro that Portugal has more to offer than "fado" singing and salt cod.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam