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Televisa beats Azteca in reality showdown

Despite low ratings, exex expect 'Estrellas' to succeed

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s top nets are facing off in the reality arena once again, with simultaneous bows of “Big Brother VIP 2” on Televisa and novela-star-hunt “Estrellas de Novela” on TV Azteca.

The head-to-head is the fiercest confrontation in what has become Mexico’s most competitive programming battlefield. “VIP 2” won the opening battle hands down when they both bowed on a Sunday night at the beginning of the month. It pulled in a hearty 27.4 share, while “Estrellas” scored just 8.3 points.

Azteca execs quickly pointed out that previous shows had less auspicious debuts. “We expected a difference, and over time, we hope the ratings gap will close,” says Guillermo Alegret, Azteca’s channel director.

Indeed, talent skein “La Academia,” the net’s most successful show in the genre, rated only a 7 share in its June 2002 bow; but the series finale netted Azteca’s highest-ever rating, a 36 share, crushing Televisa’s similarly themed “Operacion Triunfo.”

Mexican reality shows have been fierce rivals since “Big Brother” bowed on Televisa in March 2002.

Televisa’s biggest ratings pull for “VIP 2” was tapping hugely popular novela star Veronica Castro to host. All of the “Big Brother” shows are co-produced by Dutch group Endemol.

Azteca bowed its first reality, “La Academia,” in June 2002. But the show’s success was later smudged by a lawsuit filed by Endemol for copyright infringement, and the case is still pending.

Azteca insiders insist that, despite low ratings, “Estrellas” could be profitable — “La Academia 2,” which had disappointing ratings, made more money than its predecessor thanks to product placement by Coca-Cola, Unilever and General Motors.

“Estrellas de Novela,” an acting school, with telenovela contracts going to the winners, is co-produced by Promofilm, adapted from its “Protagonistas de Novela,” which aired in Venezuela and Colombia. Mexican version is hosted by Azteca’s top novela star, Silvia Navarro.

Networks wasted no time in preparing the next conflict. Azteca will bow “La Academia 3” in March, while Televisa plans “Big Brother 3” for around the same time.

“We kept (the reality format) off air for a while last year, and the competition took advantage of that to gain audience,” Ernesto Castillo, marketing director for Endemol Mexico, says. “That won’t happen again.”

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