Weather Plans Spanish Spinoff


Eyeing the hot Hispanic market, The Weather Channel will look to launch a domestic Spanish-language digital network, officials said last week.

TWC has just started to talk to cable operators about the proposed network, which would be called The Weather Channel en Español, according to Patrick Scott, president of The Weather Channel Networks.

"We've only just recently started putting it on the road," Scott said.

TWC will employ some of the staff involved with its Latin American networks, which the programmer shut down late last year, to create the domestic Spanish-language service. It will be programmed for and geared to Hispanics, according to Scott.

TWC's owner, Landmark Communications Inc., pulled the plug on its Spanish- and Portuguese-language TV services in December, blaming tough economic conditions in Latin America. TWC said the channels were not generating enough advertising or license fees revenue.

In contrast, the U.S. Hispanic marketplace is muy caliente— booming — presenting an opportunity for the programmer.

"It's a no-brainer that the Hispanic market sector is growing and receiving a lot more attention," Scott said. "And when Landmark, our parent company, decided to shut down the Latin American operation a couple of months ago, we immediately started plans for what we call The Weather Channel en Español. We're using some of the people from the Latin American operation and we are building that."

Much of the programming for the Latin American services was produced in Atlanta, where TWC is based.

Even though TWC's Spanish Latin American TV service was "designed for and staffed by and serving counties in central and South America," it had some carriage in the United States: on DirecTV Inc., a Miami, Fla., cable system and at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Fla., according to Scott.

Looking for deals

There is no launch time for TWC en Español, other than later this year, and won't be a firm debut date until the programmer signs up a few big distributors for the service. "It needs a critical mass of a few MSOs in order for us to launch it," Scott said.

The Spanish-language TWC would be different than the English-language channel in that it will be server-based, with segments pre-recorded and then aired, rather than originating live from studio staffed with meteorologist hosts.

Like the mothership English-language TWC, the Hispanic-geared weather network will offer domestic weather and local inserts, along with educational and longer-form programming of the kind that aired on the Latin American network.

Tampa head start

One of TWC's companies, WSI, has already been offering unbranded Spanish-language weather segments for a local Spanish-language news service that Time Warner Cable created in Tampa Bay, Fla., a spinoff of its Bay News 9.

Both the cable system and the local Spanish news service are now owned by Advance/Newhouse Communications. WSI will also offer Spanish-language weather for the Hispanic local news service that Time Warner's New York 1 News will launch in New York City later this year.

"If your strategy is like Time Warner's, which is to bundle the weather into your regional news-service type offering, then WSI is the natural partner for that," Scott said. "If your strategy is to use the well-known cable brands, of which we are obviously a strong one, then we provide you with a turnkey, fully branded Weather Channel en Español. That's the strategy."

Scott conceded that pitching a new network to any distributor is a tough sell these days.

"You hear people say things like, 'I've got 50 Spanish offerings, weather is at the bottom of my list,' " he said. "So we have a struggle to explain the benefits of it. Case studies and success stories is the best way to do that."