$88 million in new business for Spanish-Language TV in 2011-12

The race is on to capture the U.S. Hispanic market, with mainstream networks and their Hispanic counterparts battling for primacy. The result is an increasing cross-pollination of programs and a proliferation of networks, with Fox, Lionsgate and NBCU among those joining Hispanic allies to find and produce content aimed at the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the U.S.

New Hispanic channels are emerging, some in Spanish, some in English, in a bid to appeal to a mix of generations and language preferences that can exist under one Latino roof: The latest census reveals that of the 50.5 million Hispanics in the U.S., 30% are Spanish-dominant while the rest are either English-speaking or bilingual.

Broadcast leader Univision is now the clear No. 5 broadcast network (behind the Big Four) while rival Telemundo has been picking up steam.

“The number of networks focused on the Spanish space has increased from around 12 in 2001 to 100 just a month ago,” says Univision networks prexy Cesar Conde, who points out that Univision alone will have a dozen networks by year’s end compared with three last year.

These include Univision’s upcoming news and sports pay TV nets in addition to the telenovela channel now on Dish Network plus the six TuTV pay TV channels, jointly owned with Televisa.

One of the most anticipated new players is MundoFox, a joint venture between Fox Intl. Channels (FIC) and Colombia’s RCN, due to launch in the fall. The new Spanish-lingo network will showcase edgier Colombian telenovelas and look to build on Fox’s success in inserting itself into a market. Meanwhile, Fox and Univision recently bowed Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s pan-American talent competish “Q’Viva! The Chosen,” while Fox’s “Family Guy” airs on Univision sibling web TeleFutura.

Elsewhere, sister networks NBC and Telemundo share talent and resources in the exec ranks as well as on-air.

In the 2011-12 upfront season, an estimated $88 million of new business came to Spanish-Language TV, with Telemundo taking more than half (55%) of the new business, according to Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of NBCUniversal entertainment, digital networks and integrated media.

“The reported 2011/2012 upfront numbers were $1.75 billion for Univision, and $400 million for Telemundo, up 20% from the 2010/2011 upfront,” says Antonio Ruiz, partner-communications planning at leading Hispanic ad agency, the Vidal Partnership. Telemundo and its youth-skewed bicultural cable sibling Mun2 delivered more than 20% growth year-to-year, marking their best upfront season ever.

“Our Hispanic strategy is not limited to Telemundo (or Mun2) alone,” says Zalaznick, who points out that NBCUniversal’s theme parks, studio, cable and broadcast networks, digital assets and Comcast’s leading position among cablers in the U.S. allows the company to collectively reach 93% of all Hispanics. She adds that landing the Spanish-language U.S. rights to World Cup Soccer matches in 2018 and 2022 would not have happened without the joint efforts of NBC Sports and Telemundo Deportes.

NBCU parent Comcast has begun to fulfill its pledge to launch 10 independently owned channels on its cable systems over the next eight years. Of these, four will have Hispanic ownership.

Leading the initial pack is young-male-skewed El Rey from Latino helmer Robert Rodriguez and partners John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa of FactoryMade Ventures.

“When Fogelman approached me with the idea for this channel, I immediately said yes,” says Rodriguez. He’s building soundstages on his 25-acre property in Austin for the English-language channel, which will include animation, music, reality, scripted shows, movies, docus and sports programming.

“The key is to make it universal; I want viewers to watch it because it’s cool, not Latino,” adds Rodriguez.

Another upcoming Latino-owned Comcast network is BabyFirst Americas from Spanish-lingo TV exec Constantino “Said” Schwarz, which is slated to launch by April.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate and Mexican partner Televisa have expanded their joint film venture, Pantelion Films, onto the smallscreen as well. (Over the March 16-18 weekend, Pantelion scored big at the B.O. with “Casa de mi Padre,” which nabbed $2.4 million on 382 screens.) The partnership will include English-lingo format adaptations of TV content from Televisa’s library, and the development of scripted and unscripted English-language original programming.

The companies have set up a hefty development fund to enable them to attract top showrunners and talent for an average output of six to eight projects a year, including the sitcom spinoff of Pantelion’s debut pic, “From Prada to Nada”; “Badlands,” a scripted drama at ABC based on Televisa hit telenovela “Soy tu Duena”; Televisa’s drama skein “Terminales” for ABC Family; and “Teresa,” based on another Televisa telenovela.

Univision, an erstwhile strictly Spanish-language network, recently began providing English close-captioning for its primetime block of telenovelas and other programs, including long-running variety show “Sabado Gigante.” The network is a ratings winner, especially among adults 18-34, where its season average is double struggling English-language broadcaster CW (1.6 vs. 0.8) and is now within shouting distance of ABC, CBS and NBC. (No. 2 Hispanic-language net Telemundo has been offering English closed captions in its primetime block since 2004.)

“Forty-two of the top 50 shows are already watched by bilinguals on Univision,” says Conde.

But U.S.-partnered players aren’t the only ones gearing up to deliver Latino shows to the U.S.: Venezuela’s RCTV, once the oldest and most dominant broadcaster in Venezuela until president Hugo Chavez shuttered it for allegedly inciting rebellion, revived its production capabilities in October, keenly aware of the growing interest in Latino-themed stories.

RCTV Intl. head Jorge Granier is opening a Los Angeles office and has been meeting with showrunners and talent agencies to package English-language versions of RCTV telenovelas selected from its trove of 300 titles.

Latin America’s wealth of talent, formats, stories and programming innovations has not been fully tapped in the U.S., says Joshua Mintz, exec VP of Telemundo Studios, which is churning out six to seven telenovelas a year, mainly in Miami. Mintz points to ABC’s hit adaptation of Colombia’s “Ugly Betty” and, most recently, Fox Television Studios plans for an English-lingo version of “La Reina del Sur,” Telemundo’s biggest hit telenovela.

“If the U.S. TV industry needs new stories to tell, it doesn’t need to look any further than Latin America,” Granier says.”

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