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Azteca America launches Stateside

Initial broadcasts reach only half of ambitious projections

MEXICO CITY — Azteca America, a U.S. Spanish-lingo network, has finally launched — but with just one station covering Los Angeles.

KAZA-TV Channel 54 began broadcasting a mixture of programming from TV Azteca, Mexico’s No. 2 broadcaster, Saturday to metropolitan L.A., home to some 20% of the 35 million Latinos in the United States.

The launch is a far cry from the ambitious plans originally unveiled by TV Azteca and partner Pappas Telecasting, owner of the U.S.’ biggest private chain of TV stations. Azteca and Pappas had said a second-quarter launch would reach 45% of the Hispanic market, rising to 65% by year’s end.

The Azteca-Pappas alliance calls for Azteca to own 20% of the new network in exchange for providing programming from its two Mexican channels. Visalia-based Pappas is charged with — and will foot the bill for — buying stations in key markets such as Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Dallas, Phoenix and San Diego; it has an 80% stake.

KAZA-TV’s sked includes Azteca telenovelas, Mexican soccer matches and the controversial, down-market talker “Cosas de la Vida” (Things of Life).

“That brand recognition, combined with the proven popularity of our programming will be vital in generating revenue and competing aggressively for advertising dollars in the 2002 season,” said Luis J Echarte, TV Azteca’s former chief financial officer, who is overseeing the Azteca America launch and has also formally joined the board of the Salinas group, which controls TV Azteca.

Rodrigo Pliego, a TV Azteca operational and financial exec, will replace Echarte as CFO.

With limited coverage, Azteca America will likely have trouble attracting national advertisers.

Competitive playing field

Come January, it will face another competitor in addition to market leader Univision and Telemundo when Univision bows its second net, Telefutura.

Telefutura will bow with 80% coverage of the U.S. Hispanic market, thanks to a $1 billion purchase of Barry Diller’s former USA Station Group.

Fort Worth, Texas-based Hispanic Television Network (HTVN) is trying to position itself as another Spanish-lingo broadcast alternative, but recent distribution deals have been for cable carriage.

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