Telefutura Not Yet In Gear with Ops

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Telefutura, the first new television channel of 2002, may have entered the race for Hispanic viewers on Jan. 14 with a splashy debut, but it has yet to get in first gear with cable system affiliates.

That's not to say that the Univision Communications Inc.'s Spanish-language spinoff isn't appearing on cable. But for now, those cable operators running Telefutura, whose format headlines Hollywood and Latin American-made primetime movies as counter-programming to novelas and other genres at rival Spanish-language services, are doing so by taking must-carry broadcast station feeds.

Although distribution will ultimately meld broadcast and cable affiliates, the channel's initial universe consists of 44 broadcast stations, including stations in New York, Los Angeles and other major markets where parent Univision had acquired a foothold last year from USA Networks Inc. In New York, for example, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems are rebroadcasting former USA outlet WFUT.

Via its broadcast/must-carry coverage, Telefutura officials estimated that the channel is viewable by 70 percent of all U.S. Latino TV households.

A check of key cable operators midway through Telefutura's first week suggested that the network's affiliate marketing team has yet to connect on carriage among the remaining 30 percent of U.S. Latino homes.

"They haven't approached us yet," Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Luftman said. "When they do, we'll be glad to consider the matter."

"We're aware of the network and we're in the process of evaluating it for carriage, just as we do for all new networks," said Charter Communications Inc. spokesman Andy Morgan. "We haven't made any decisions."

No cable affiliates were disclosed at launch time, and Telefutura executives were unavailable for an update late last week. Ray Rodriguez, Univision's president and CEO, was also unavailable for comment on the new network's strategy, despite repeated interview requests.

Such Hollywood flicks as The Mambo Kings, Batman Returns
and Doc Hollywood
dominate Telefutura's primetime schedule. Flagged as Cine de Las Estrellas
(Movies of the Stars), the movies run as themed doubleheaders — including blockbusters on Mondays, drama on Tuesdays and action/adventure on Thursdays.

That counters the fare available on sister networks Galavision (bilingual shows aimed at young Latinos) and Univision (novellas, followed by an hour of original news/newsmagazine/talk/reality/comedy series). Competitor Telemundo Communications presents an amalgam of novelas, movies (mostly from Latin America) and first-run series in primetime, including Spanish-language episodes of Showtime's Resurrection Blvd.

Telefutura's daytime lineup features novelas, cartoon blocks and El Escandalo del Mediodia, a two-hour midday talk/variety show. Weekend features include Mexican soccer league games, game show Aprieta y Gana, and music/dance hour La Cartelera Pepsi
(sponsored by Pepsico).

The channel also produces and carries Contacto Deportivo, a SportsCenter-type nightly roundup show that was previously planned for Galavision, but cancelled just prior to its scheduled premiere last spring, a victim of Univision cost-cutting. Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc.'s Budweiser beer is the show's primary sponsor.

Rodriguez, in an
interview with The Wall Street Journal
published prior to Telefutura's launch, declared that the channel's bet on primetime movies is designed to woo an audience of Latinos who mostly watch English-language fare, rather than cannibalize the growing crowd watching Spanish-language TV from an escalating assortment of broadcast, cable and hybrid-distributed services.

Joining Anheuser-Busch as charter advertisers are MCI Group, AT&T Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor Co. and Sears Roebuck and Co. Telefutura declined to provide information on ad rates and the number of minutes per hour available for local broadcast or cable avails.

Earlier, Univision officials projected that Telefutura would spend $100 million on its launch and first year. They anticipate the channel will break even by the end of 2002. Analysts project first-year losses in the $15 million to $20 million range.

The network's opening-day special, featuring Univision celebrities and other Latino notables in a pre-taped event from Miami, was simulcast by Univision and Galavision. The show also was transmitted to launch parties in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, attended by local celebrities, city officials, ad industry representatives and media.

Nielsen Media Research estimated that more than 206,000 TV households watched the launch show in the New York area alone, but did not specify the number of homes watching the show on Telefutura.

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