Telemundo orbits Sony

Spanish-lingo web can't wait for $ infusion

NEW YORK — Although the FCC has yet to approve Sony/Liberty Media buyout of Telemundo, the U.S. Spanish-language network demonstrated plenty of Sony influence during its upfront presentation to advertisers Tuesday.

Telemundo is a distant second to Univision in the two-way Spanish-language network battle, and media-buyers hope that Sony’s financial and programming clout will help make Telemundo at least competitive. Telemundo’s 18 primetime share doesn’t give media-buyers much of a chance to play it off Univision, which had an 82 share last year, in ad negotiations.

“Sony has given us wonderful access to their resources,” said Roland Hernandez, president & CEO of Telemundo.

Upfront style

Ad agency executives had a hard time not noticing that Sony was now involved with Telemundo. The upfront presentation was held at the Sony Imax theater in Lincoln Center. The musical entertainment was supplied by the hot Latin artist Alejandro Fernandez, who was introduced by Oscar Llord, president of Sony Discos.

Telemundo’s new primetime lineup contains three newly produced Spanish-language versions of Sony library television product: “Angeles,” a new version of “Charlie’s Angels,” will air Mondays from 8 p.m.-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 p.m.-9 p.m.; “Buscando Parejas,” the Spanish-language update of “The Dating Game,” will run on Thursday nights at 7:30 and week-days at 4:30 p.m.; and “Los Recien Casados,” a new version of “The Newlywed Game,” will air Thursdays at 7 p.m., and will be stripped at 4 p.m.

U.S. themes

In addition to launching these direct adaptations of American’s TV shows into Spanish, Hernandez said that Telemundo’s new schedule was constructed from a more of a U.S. theme toward Hispanic programming compared with Univision, which gets its highest ratings from novelas produced in Mexico.

In place of novelas, Telemundo is filling its lineup with formats that have not been previously tried on a Spanish-language network: sitcoms, one-hour action drama and gameshows.

“We think this strategy will have a dramatic effect on the ratings,” said Hernandez.

These formats are unproven with Hispanic audiences, but Hernandez said that TV Azteca’s success in Mexico of counter-programming a dubbed version of “The Nanny” proves that there’s an appetite for sitcoms. If the sitcoms are produced in Spanish for Hispanic viewers, Hernandez believes the response will surpass the ratings success of “The Nanny.”

“We’re producing shows for the U.S. Hispanic,” said Hernandez. “Novelas target an audience from another country. They are vulnerable.”

Hernandez said Telemundo’s new shows are being shot in Mexico City, Baja California, Los Angeles, Miami and Texas. He said the scripts will all target Hispanics living in the U.S.

With its more U.S.-based strategy and Sony’s help, Hernandez vowed that Telemundo will reach a 50 share in U.S. Spanish-language viewers within five years. Hernandez said that Sony and Liberty have significantly increased Telemundo’s program-ming budget, but he declined be more specific.

Telemundo’s new fall schedule will also include “Living en America,” about a 34-year-old divorced Latin woman who re-claims her maiden name and does her best to raise her two adolescent daughters; “Placas,” a one-hour reality show following police officers as they go about their daily business of law enforcement; and “Reyes y Reyes,” a one-hour drama about two inner-city cops who have put aside their many differences to solve their cases.

The FCC is expected to approve $440 million Sony/Liberty buyout of Telemundo in the fall. While optimism is riding high at the Spanish-language network, Telemundo has had grand expectations under previous owners that have not panned out.

Sony and Liberty have plenty of incentive to build Telemundo into a competitive broadcast network. Spending on Hispanic TV advertising grew from $640 million two years ago to $780 million last year. On top of that, Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the U.S.

As a result, financial analysts predict that if Telemundo can grab a 20 share in primetime, Sony will get an attractive return on its investment.