NEW YORK — With so many U.S. majors sending cable signals south of the border (see separate story), the heavyweights have not ignored the potential of the estimated 24 million Hispanic households at home — the world’s fifth-largest Spanish-language market.
While Hispanics make up some 9% of the U.S. population, cable penetration chalks in at roughly 30% and cablers are working to heighten overall cable awareness of Hispanic TV viewers. Vying for this market are such firms as Turner , HBO, Gems, MTV and, soon, the Discovery Channel.
The pioneer in the Spanish-lingo U.S. cable market is Galavision, a subsidiary of the Univision network. Founded in 1979, the cable web currently boasts some 1.3 million- 1.5 million subs.
According to general manager Manny Calvo, fees range from 2 cents-17 cents per subscriber per month depending on the market and system.
Over the years, the channel has undergone a series of adaptations and transformations. Galavision was launched as an all-pic pay channel, later converting to basic cable; after going broadcast in several markets, it is now back on basic.
The web is currently planning a major programming makeover this spring. Gone will be the novelas, or popular soap operas. Traditional Mexican product will be augmented by shows from Venezuela and the U.S. in an effort to counterprogram the two Spanish-language broadcast webs.
“We see ourselves as a middle of the road network,” says Calvo, “and we recognize the viewers’ needs. We’re getting rid of novelas, because between the two broadcast networks there are more novelas than anyone can ever watch.”
In addition, Galavision has also developed a new marketing strategy airing spots via its parent company Univision, which reaches 91% of U.S. Hispanic households.
Celebrating its fourth anni south of the border, the Turner Broadcasting System sends three cable channels to Latin America.
Of the three, only the Cartoon Network — because of its SAP (second audio program) capabilities — is being marketed to Hispanics in the southern U.S., which falls within the footprint of the Galaxy I bird.
Turner confirms that cablers in Miami and L.A. are pushing the SAP service to Hispanic subscribers and that the subscribers are using it.
Turner is also syndicating several original Spanish-lingo shows both in the U.S. and in Latin America: The half-hour Spanish-language newscast Noticiero CNN Internacional, which is carried four times daily on CNNI, is being syndicated to as many as 17 broadcasters in the U.S. (The Spanish-language newscast was originally produced in tandem with Telemundo. When the two separated in 1993, the newscast was revamped and given a specific Latin American perspective.) Another original production, “Farandulisima!,” was launched at this year’s NATPE.
According to Turner, the 30-minute weekly entertainment mag, hosted by former Miss U.S.A. Laura Harring, has attracted a great deal of attention at home and abroad.
Launched in April 1993, the Miami-based Gems touts itself as a women’s channel.
According to network topper Gary McBride, Gems has managed to achieve two-million-plus subscribers in Latin America in less than a year.
“Our initial efforts to market the channel here in U.S. were somewhat frustrated last year by the reregulation of cable,” says McBride. “No one knew what was going to happen, but now cable operators want to rebuild business.”
Since the Oct. 6 reregulation, Gems has signed with Cox Cable in Los Angeles, TCI in San Diego, U.S. Cable in Chicago and Century in San Juan, covering 95% of Puerto Rico. It currently reaches more than 300,000 U.S. subscribers and is being aggressively marketed nationally, often together with other Spanish-language services such as HBO, MTV and the sports channel Cadena Deportiva.
HBO, the oldest pay channel in the U.S., launched its “HBO en Espanol” service in October 1993, to satisfy the needs of Hispanic viewers. In reality, “HBO en Espanol” is merely a Spanish-language version of the pay service in Spanish and, besides HBO films and original productions, all on-air promos, interstitial programming and “behind-the-scenes” specials are carried in Spanish.
Although no decision has been made yet about producing “Beavis y Butt-Head en Espanol,” MTV Latino is actively marketing its Spanish-lingo cable channel on both sides of the border.
Web senior VP and managing director Richard Arroyo notes, “Although our first priority is Latin America, we are finding significant interest by (U.S.) Hispanics and we are increasing our efforts in that market. We’re on cable systems in South Florida, Southern California and Boston, where Hispanic population is concentrated.”
Rather than work with a local partner as they did on previous launches in other territories, MTV Latino is wholly owned and operated by MTV International.
In their first five months, the channel has achieved more than 2 million subs and has captured 30% of cable households in Latin America. Arroyo credits some of their initial success to “MTV Internacional,” a half-hour show that had previously been syndicated in Latin America.
Although its signal was launched only last month in Latin America, the Discovery Channel-Latin America will be available to U.S. cable systems when Panamsat III becomes operational in early 1985. Panamsat’s footprint covers the southern U.S., from south Florida to Southern California.
The Miami-based channel is a 60%-40% joint venture with Mexico’s Grupo Televisa, with dubbing by Televisa’s Audiomaster 3000 de Mexico. Sheila Flynn, who handles Discovery’s international PR, notes that future marketing of the channel to U.S. Hispanics “is a natural segue for us.”
Because of the educational nature of its programming, the channel has found rapid acceptance in Latin America. The company is also working with local governments to sponsor environmental and children’s events.
“We have sex but it is between animals,” says Flynn with a chuckle. “There is also no gratuitous violence. If one animal kills another, it usually eats it.”