Televisa: Hola to Hollywood

Company plans film distrib, Miami base

Mexican conglom Televisa is setting up a beachhead on two U.S. coasts.

While its chairman, Emilio Azcarraga Jean, and three top execs plan to set up a corporate operations base in Miami, its film arm Televisa Cine is poised to launch a theatrical distribution venture in Los Angeles in May.

Televisa separately is rolling out its home entertainment label in the U.S. market, with current and catalog film titles from the Televisa Cine division and products based on Televisa TV programming.

Idea behind the theatrical distribution venture is to distribute and market Spanish-language movies in the U.S. targeting the growing Hispanic population.

Televisa Cine has hired film-buying veteran Mike Doban of booking consultancy and distribution company Arcangelo to head its day-to-day operations. Doban was the head film buyer of Metropolitan Theaters in the U.S. It used to run several Spanish-language cinemas.

Televisa Cine will kick off with Sergio Arau’s $1.5 million “A Day Without a Mexican” on May 14.

Arau, the son of Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate”), shot the comedy based on his short of the same title. Pic film explores a day when all Latinos vanish in California, leaving the Latino-dominated service sector in the lurch.

“A Day Without a Mexican” is in post-production and will probably be completed by the end of March. Arau hopes to present it as a work-in-progress at the upcoming Guadalajara Iberoamerican Film Festival (March 19-25).

Eckehart von Damm, CEO of Televisa Cine, said he does not plan to seek partnerships or alliances, and that the emphasis of the film distribution would be on Televisa’s own output. He also said the distrib will leverage off Televisa’s other U.S. media properties to publicize its releases.

“We have ad time on Univision and we have our own magazines,” von Damm said. He was referring to a commercial airtime accord with leading U.S. Hispanic net Univision (in which Grupo Televisa is a minority shareholder) and the stable of titles published by Miami-based Televisa Editorial, which includes the popular women’s monthly Vanidades.

And while Mexicans represent some 80% of the U.S. Hispanic marketplace, he aims to attract non-Hispanics to releases like the Arau film.

Televisa Cine was originally unveiled in October 2002 as a joint distribution-production partnership with Spain’s Plural Entertainment. But Plural recently pulled out because its parent company Prisa has been scaling back its investments in media.

“We have not completely discarded the idea of joining the distribution venture in the future, but we will continue to co-produce films with them,” said Plural’s Miami-based chief Luis Fernandez.

Plural has co-produced Beto Gomez’s “Pink Fists” and “A Day Without a Mexican” with Televisa Cine, among other pics.

Miami- and L.A.-based Latin World Entertainment is still on board with Televisa Cine to market and promote its movies.

Televisa’s Miami-based distribution arm, Televisa Intl., is overseeing the homevid effort and inked a U.S. distrib accord with Santa Monica-based Xenon Pictures, which specializes in urban and ethnic films.