Spanish-lingo outfits up home-made efforts

Gameshows, sitcoms, news skeins being developed

Spanish-lingo TV viewers can look forward to more laughs and more news this season.

Both major U.S. Spanish-language TV networks — leader Univision and second-place Telemundo — will air original sitcoms developed specifically for the Hispanic market this fall, and both have upped their commitment to news programs.

Univision, which reaches 92% of U.S. Hispanic households through its 19 owned and operated stations, 33 broad-cast and 1,093 cable affils, will debut its first inhouse sitcom, “Estamos Unidos” (United Always) this fall.

Half-hour skein about a Hispanic family adjusting to life in the U.S. stars 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado and Carlos Bonavides. It will air Friday nights at 10 p.m.

It follows last year’s debut of “Los Beltran,” Telemundo’s sitcom about a Hispanic family in Los Angeles that the network is bringing back.

“I wish them luck and big success with the show. That will mean the market is becoming more accepting of sitcoms,” says James McNamara, prexy-CEO of Telemundo Networks Group, of his competitor’s upcoming effort.

Yet “Beltran” doesn’t pull in the level of ratings Telemundo — which reaches 85% of Hispanic TV households — earns for its Brazilian novela “Xica,” which debuted in January. Perfs, however, have improved, even in repeats, McNamara says.

And the network is sticking with sitcoms, adding a companion to “Los Beltran” called “Viva Vegas” this fall.

One of Telemundo’s other major initiatives for this coming season is building a strong morning news program.

Beginning in mid-September, “Esta Manana” will bump the current early morning animation block, which moves to weekends.

Jose Diaz-Balart and Gloria Calzada will co-host the show from 7-9 a.m. Format is modeled loosely on NBC’s “Today,” but will cater to the Hispanic market.

Meanwhile, Univision is committed to expanding the news operations of its O&Os, particularly during mornings and on weekends, a spokeswoman says.

Univision has a steady stream of the popular, ratings-proven novelas that come out of both Mexican TV powerhouse Televisa and Argentina’s Venevision tied up longterm. It also has a lock on several sports rights, including soccer’s World Cup 2002 and 2006.

Both nets also have new gameshows in the works: Univision is touting “A Million,” and Telemundo is bringing “Numeros Rojos” out. Other new programming includes a Univision mini about controversial Mexican rock star Gloria Trevi and Telemundo’s comedic kids interview skein “Agrandaditos.”

As Spanish-lingo audiences continue to grow in the U.S., and the slates of the two major nets serving them likewise mature, advertisers have begun to catch on.

The two net’s ad dollar takes for 2000-01 were dramatically up from last year’s: Univision reached a half-billion dollars in upfront advertising revenue with 92 advertisers, up from its $200 million take last year from 37 advertisers. Telemundo earned $175 million, up from last year’s $94 million.

The companies still have work cut out for them. While Univision dominates, it says it will not rest until it claims 100% of its market’s viewership. And Telemundo continues bent on making a profit out of being second.

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