Latino distribs find U.S. tough going

HOLLYWOOD — Televisa Cine, the U.S. theatrical distrib of Mexican media giant Televisa, is the latest casualty among distributors of Latino fare in the U.S. Company announced last week that it has suspended activities, spurred by losses from some releases, most recently dark urban comedy “Matando cabos.”

Spanish-language film distribs in the U.S. have not had an easy time, despite the fact that the 41 million U.S. Hispanics are more frequent moviegoers than either Anglos of African Americans, going to movies an average 12 times a year.

If Televisa does buy U.S. Hispanic web Univision, this would be a boon for the fledgling distrib.

“We will continue to manage our DVD, TV and catalog sales in the U.S.,” says Televisa Cine topper Eckehardt von Damm, who hopes to restructure and beef up the company with new execs in a few months.

Company launched with great fanfare two years ago and hit pay dirt with its first release, “A Day Without a Mexican,” which won substantial free publicity from the brouhaha over its provocative billboard campaign. Televisa topper Emilio Azcarraga Jean allegedly pumped an additional $1 million into the pic’s P&A.

“Mexican” has sold 450,000 DVDs to date, a record result for Xenon Pictures, Televisa Home Entertainment’s exclusive domestic distributor.

Televisa Cine achieved some success with grossout comedy “El Vacilon: The Movie.” Company released it only in the New York tri-state area, where the radio show it’s based on has a loyal following.

However, Televisa Cine’s domestic distribution rights to Mexican B.O. hit “Ladies Night” expired in December, while Xenon recently inked Fernando Kalife’s “Siete dias,” which it may release theatrically on limited screens now that Televisa Cine will not.

“WIth perhaps a couple of exceptions, the films they acquired for the U.S. were not relevant outside of Mexico,” says one observer.

“Televisa expects the same level of success it has achieved from its telenovelas; they’re very adverse to putting money in a business they don’t understand,” he adds.

Distrib joins the ranks of other companies distributing Spanish language fare in the U.S. that tried and faltered. Another Los Angeles-based company with similar ambitions, Arenas Entertainment, has gone back to its roots as a Hispanic marketing service agency.

Miami-based Venevision Intl., which released a few titles, is focusing on consolidating and growing its presence in other windows, releasing a handful of DVD titles a month.

Latin Universe crashed and burned in 2000 after its failed release of Alejandro Springall’s “Santitos.”

All eyes are now on the Lionsgate and Panamax joint venture and its plans to co-produce and release six to eight Latino-themed pics a year.

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