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Azteca America adds affils

Net now covers 60% of U.S. market

MIAMI — Azteca America, the fledgling Spanish-lingo network owned by No. 2 Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca, expects to reach 75% of the U.S. Hispanic market by the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Azteca America, which bowed in mid-2001 with one station in Los Angeles, last week announced four new affils — KZDF in San Diego, KMCE in Monterey-Salinas, Calif., WTPH in Fort Myers-Naples, Fla., and KOHC in Oklahoma City.

Now with 24 affils, many low-power, it reaches 60% of the market.

The network faces competition for affils. Leading Spanish-lingo broadcaster Univision, which is trying to expand the reach of its Telefutura net, has 75% coverage.

NBC-backed Telemundo is trying to narrow the gap between its 91% reach and Univision flagship net’s 97%.

But Azteca America also is trying to beef up its carriage on cable systems, and recently inked deals in Palm Springs, Calif., and Las Vegas, with other accords said to be in the works.

Those efforts are largely on hold due to a dispute with EchoStar.

The satcaster carries TV Azteca’s Mexican channel, Azteca 13, and claimed its contract gave it an exclusive to all Azteca content in the U.S. through March 2005.

Last month, New York’s Southern District Court rejected EchoStar’s application for a preliminary injunction to prevent cablers from carrying the U.S. Azteca web.

Azteca America is programmed exclusively with content from its parent, with primetime staples usually launching Stateside a month or so after their Mexican bows.

The U.S. network is prepping the launch of its first original production, newscast “Hechos America,” to air at 5 p.m. Pacific time, Azteca prexy-CEO Luis Echarte said.

The newscast will be produced from TV Azteca’s studios in Mexico City, using anchors whose work will be backed up by the Mexican news department and supplemented by correspondents in the U.S., he said.

TV Azteca also will take its celebrity news/gossip show “Ventaneando,” which is produced before a studio audience in Mexico City, on the road to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and Miami to bring it closer to U.S. viewers, Echarte said.

Echarte also is trying to drum up more ad business, acknowledging that the net’s limited availability in its first year created an ad sales “disaster.” He and TV Azteca chairman Ricardo Salinas and other Azteca execs from Mexico held Azteca America’s inaugural upfront presentation May 13 in New York.

“We’re ready with the coverage, and we’ve been getting interest and business from the ad agencies,” Echarte said.

Big advertisers like WalMart and Procter & Gamble are spending some of their coin with the network — as are some Mexican companies with whom Azteca has a relationship south of the border, he said.

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