NBC Eyes An Island Import

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To target an underserved Hispanic niche, NBC Universal is considering using programming from its Telemundo TV station in Puerto Rico to create a Spanish-language cable network in the States, officials said last week.

NBC’s proposed plan, which involves WKAQ-TV in San Juan, is similar to what broadcaster LIN TV Corp. plans for one of its broadcast outlets. Last week, LIN unveiled plans to launch a domestic Spanish-language cable network that will offer Puerto Rican news and entertainment programming from its TV station in San Juan, independent WAPA-TV.

LIN and NBC have the same strategy in mind: With much U.S. Spanish-language programming originating in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, they aim to fill a void in terms of Puerto Rico-oriented content.

NBC Cable has already been talking to MSOs about the idea of a Puerto Rican-targeted cable service, which would use WKAQ programming. The Peacock is also weighing other options, including offering Spanish-language content from the station or the company’s library for on-demand programming.

TOP STATION

WKAQ is top-rated in Puerto Rico, and NBC wants to bring that content to the mainland one way or another, be it as a standalone channel or on-demand.

“There’s been a number of operators and distributors that have said, 'Let’s look hard at that. It’s the No. 1 station in Puerto Rico, it has a very strong appeal and it has a real constituency of viewers that have moved here to the U.S. that watched it and liked it,’ ” NBC Cable president David Zaslav said.

“It [WKAQ] has a good relationship with the community and many in that community have moved to the U.S.,” he said. “Why not get the tag-along value of that? And operators have been looking for more things to offer in the Hispanic space to provide a stronger package.”

NBC’s idea entails taking “big pieces of the programming that’s on that station and bringing it into the U.S. to create a channel that has that brand, that has that loyalty, that’s geared more directly to the community from Puerto Rico,” Zaslav said.

LIN’s new network, dubbed WAPA-America, will also offer programming originating from and relating to Puerto Rico.

A large part of WAPA-America’s lineup will be a simulcast of LIN’s WAPA-TV.

“This is a niche, but it’s a pretty big niche,” said Paul Karpowicz, LIN’s vice president of television. “It’s that population from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and all of the Caribbean that is used to watching WAPA. We’ve done little focus groups and research.

“People who come to New York or come to Miami or Boston are very familiar with the programming that we offer. This will give them the ability to tune in on a daily basis and to watch some of the favorite shows that they used to watch in Puerto Rico.”

WAPA-America already has a distributor. It will launch on DirecTV Inc. on Sept. 1, and LIN said it is also in talks with cable companies about carrying the service. DirecTV has exclusive direct-broadcast satellite rights to offer WAPA-America through Jan. 31, 2006, as part of the DBS provider’s “DirecTV Para Todos” programming tier.

TUTV LANDS ON COX

In other carriage-related Hispanic-network news, Cox Communications Inc. last week closed a deal to distribute the five Spanish-language networks that make up TuTV, a joint venture of Univision Communications Inc. and Grupo Televisa.

Four of the five TuTV networks have already debuted as part of Cox’s Hispanic digital offering, Paquete Latino, in San Diego. TuTV will be rolled out later in markets such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Omaha, Neb.

“We’re very excited to be adding more Spanish-language, culturally relevant content to our evolving Hispanic package of programming,” Cox spokesman Bobby Amirshahi said.

Distributors such as DirecTV and Time Warner Cable have noted that there is a dearth of Spanish-language programming that originates from Puerto Rico, or that’s aimed at mainlanders originally from the island. That kind of content, like WAPA-America, might help increase Hispanic penetration for cable and DBS.

“It’s a piece, a segment of the U.S. Hispanic population that we felt was underserved, and nothing that we had was specifically addressed to the Puerto Rican population, and obviously there is a large segment of Puerto Ricans in the United States,” said DirecTV executive vice president of programming Stephanie Campbell. “So we just felt it was an opportunity to address that.”

DirecTV also recently added the Hispanic Information & Telecommunications Network, the education-oriented Spanish-language service known as HITN-TV, whose lineup includes programming about and for the Puerto Rican community.

In terms of what NBC and LIN are doing, HITN-TV president Jose Rodriguez said: “The Puerto Rican community’s needs in the United States have been pretty much invisible for the major media players. This is a step in the right direction.”

TIME WARNER VIEW

Time Warner Cable is adding networks to its Hispanic offering, and “is looking at product from Puerto Rico,” according to Lynne Costantini, the cable company’s senior vice president of programming.

She said some Time Warner Cable divisions have expressed interest in the programming where Puerto Rican broadcasters would essentially import their signals, like LIN and NBC/Telemundo.

“We really don’t have a lot of Puerto Rican networks per se,” Costantini said. “There are some networks that have blocks of Puerto Rican programming.”

LIN owns several local-weather cable channels, called Local Weather Stations, in markets such as Norfolk, Va., and Providence, R.I. But WAPA-America “would be our first venture as a national programmer,” Karpowicz said.

“We produce a tremendous amount of local content [at WAPA-TV],” he said. “That was really how this idea was born. We looked at everything we were producing for WAPA on a daily basis, and we looked at the archive of what we owned … then you look at the size of the Puerto Rican population in the United States. There are more Puerto Ricans living in New York than there are in San Juan.”

Puerto Ricans who come to the states — often settling in New York, Boston, Chicago and Orlando — are familiar with WAPA-TV, according to Karpowicz.

SIMULCAST NEWS

Primarily, WAPA-America will simulcast the TV station’s news blocks, which air from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Programming for which WAPA-TV doesn’t hold national rights, like the movies it runs weeknights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., will be replaced with other content on WAPA-America.

That will be programming from WAPA’s library — “the best of WAPA” — like the novela it produced several years ago, Karpowicz said.

NBC’s WKAQ also produces local programming, Zaslav said.

“It’s unlikely we’d take the whole station and bring it back” to the United States, he said. “It’s more likely we’d take significant portions of it, the programming that’s unique and the programming that we’ve got rights to.

“It wasn’t created as a U.S.-based service, so all the programming isn’t cleared for rights here.”

In addition to potentially creating a new Spanish-language network, NBC Universal “is looking into our library and seeing the content that we have and how we make that available through VOD,” according to Zaslav.

LIN TV has an operating hub in Springfield, Mass., where graphics changes and new commercials will be produced for the WAPA-America feed.

It’s not clear how much interest there is in WAPA-America among Hispanics who aren’t of Puerto Rican descent. But that’s really a moot issue to DirecTV.

SYNERGY SEEN

“We believe that there is a synergistic effect to addressing as many segments of the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population as possible,” Campbell said. “We have other channels in the package that are from different countries in both Latin and South America. This is just another step in that direction. “I don’t know if you ever know specifically whether the people from Colombia are interested in WAPA.”

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