Hispanic Nets Offer Up Strategies

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Spanish-language programmers Univision Communications Inc. and Telemundo left cable operators with lots of programming plans, strategies and counterstrategies to digest when they concluded their round of upfront presentations here last week.

And more than a few cable-aimed gambits shone through the blitz of three lavish presentations in 24 hours.

As the competition for the U.S. Spanish-language cable audience grows — thanks to a variety of available or soon-to-be-launched niche networks — Univision and Telemundo will increase the amount of U.S.-produced fare on their channels, and become more innovative in terms of format. Among their plans:

  • Univision's flagship broadcast network will launch the first animated series in Spanish produced by — and aimed at — U.S. Latinos.
  • Rival broadcaster Telemundo, just acquired by NBC, will try a set of mini-novelas to run for two months or less, compared to the average 12-to-15-month life span of novelas, historically the most popular Spanish TV genre.
    The one exception: Galavisión — Univision's basic-cable network — which recently de-emphasized U.S.-produced primetime series in favor of news coverage and entertainment/information fare from Mexico's Grupo Televisa S.A. and Venezuela's Venevision.
  • Some of the domestic fare Galavisión dropped may reappear soon on mun2, Telemundo's cable network for the MTV: Music Television generation. A mun2 tape shown at the Telemundo presentation carried highlights from Que Locos?
    and Video Mix, Galavision's cancelled stand-up comedy and video-music shows.
    Although a Telemundo executive acknowledged that mun2 may carry those shows and others, an announcement had not been made by press time.
  • Univision and Telemundo will be pitching Spanish-language digital tiers to cable operators by this fall. Univision will pitch a four-channel movie and music video service from Televisa — mentioned briefly during its upfront, and detailed earlier this month at the National Show in New Orleans — to operators, beginning in July.
    Meanwhile, Telemundo will develop its own tier and expects to go forward with it in the next few months. Already selling tiers: International Channel's Canales ñ venture and OlympuSat Corp.
  • In the short term, Telemundo will exploit its synergies with NBC in the news and specials arena. The big long-term deal: exclusive Spanish-language Olympic Games coverage, starting with the 2004 Summer Games from Athens, Greece.
    Telemundo said it will present the first multi-hour Olympics coverage in U.S. Spanish-language TV history (how many hours is yet to be determined). It'll focus on soccer, baseball, boxing, basketball and other sports with particular appeal to Latinos. There may be a role for mun2 in this, similar to the multi-channel approach used by NBC, CNBC and MSNBC during the last two Olympics.
    NBC completed its $3 billion acquisition of Telemundo late last month.
  • The local ad-sales picture for Latino-targeted cable nets could brighten considerably when Nielsen Media Research makes changes in its National Television Index this summer. Both Univision and Telemundo executives believe the actions will halt the perennial undercounting of Hispanic TV audiences, and could help shift hundreds of millions in ad revenues their way, with some of those dollars trickling down to local media.

TEEN TANGLE

Univision TV Networks COO Ray Rodriguez defended the recent shift in Galavisión's format. He claimed that the mix of entertainment and documentary/newsmagazine series — many aimed at teens or 20-somethings, and often bilingual — had gone as far as it could in terms of ratings.

"This was not a referendum on independently-produced U.S. shows. This was a referendum against cruel ratings," Rodriguez explained. "We were losing the ability to be a cable player up there with the TBS, Nickelodeon and USAs of the world.

"We're also not abandoning the teen or bilingual audience. In fact, since the changeover, we have more of both."

He added that Univision's news department is exploring partnerships with Televisa on Galavisión, to make the network more relevant to U.S. Latinos.

The changes at Galavisión give mun2 a clear path to become the cable choice of young Latinos, said Telemundo COO Alan Sokol.

"They clearly made a statement that they're going after lower-cost library programming and abandoning that original production," he added. "Why incur more costs when they don't have to with those big libraries available to them? It's good news for us."

NO VOD PLANS

Beyond the digital tier, Telemundo is exploring ways to help cable operators market high-speed Internet access — and perhaps interactive TV — to Latinos.

However, there are no video-on-demand plans under consideration.

For Univision, VOD, interactive TV and high-speed cable offerings also are not on the current radar screen.

"It doesn't mean we won't do it eventually," Rodriguez noted. "Nothing is off the table, but we're running as fast as we can, trying to get Latino TV viewing where it should be."

Univision's animated project is Baldo, based on the popular newspaper strip launched in 2000. Co-creators Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos serve as the series' executive producers, with an all-Latino writing and directing team in place.

Paloma Productions, an independent company working with Univision's program-development unit in Los Angeles, will handle Baldo
, along with Te Amare en Silencio
(I Will Love You in Silence), a city-based novela with a deaf female protagonist.

GAME SHOWS

Telefutura, the network Univision launched five months ago on broadcast stations — which is still waiting for its first cable affiliates — will keep its format largely intact. Movies continue in primetime, with more flicks from Latin American sources.

A game-show block will premiere this fall from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., leading with Que Dice la Gente?
(What Say the People?), a Mexico-produced version of Family Feud
from FremantleMedia, the same company behind the U.S. syndicated version, as well as Game Show Network's Press Your Luck
remake, Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck.

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