Mexico adds juice to public broadcasters

Nation boosts reach as altenative to Televisa, TV Aztaca

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is planning a $45.5 million expansion of pubcasters as a nationwide alternative to commercial giants Televisa and TV Azteca.

Once TV, the largest public web, will see more upscale programming, with “Holy Child” from Pablo Cruz’s Canana, skedded to air this year on the pubcaster, an example of the content it intends to support.

The move comes as Mexico takes steps to dramatically expand public television, roughly tripling national coverage from 2010 to 2012.

The national pubcaster expansion began quietly in March 2010 with the creation of a new department within the Interior Secretariat, dubbed the OPMA, charged with planning and executing a plan to promote the production and distribution of cultural programming via public media outlets.

The project will be injected with an initial investment of $45.5 million for 2011-2012, mostly funding 19 new repeater substations strategically placed to help boost signals across the nation; three such stations that broke ground in 2010 will be completed. Investment also includes an additional $3 million devoted to yearly operations through 2020, according to the OPMA’s recently approved expansion plan.

Mexico hopes to improve Once TV’s coverage from 50.7% to 76.8% of the nation this year, which will enable it to reach an additional 26.9 million viewers, with a goal of reaching more than 91 million viewers by 2020.

Once TV, operated by the National Polytechnic Institute, launched in 2010 with a reach of just 28% of the nation’s population. Known also as Canal 11 in Mexico City, the pubcaster will continue to be the principal focus of the national growth plan; others that will benefit include National Arts and Culture Channel Canal 22; and TV-UNAM, run by Mexico City’s massive public university UNAM.

According to the OPMA plan, the expansion has a mission to develop a diverse and solid “industry of content” and to generate better competition in the over-the-air television market, via increased national coverage.

Unable to access customized content on cable or satellite, 79% of television sets in Mexico rely solely on over-the-air broadcasting.

Commercial webs TV Azteca and Televisa command a whopping market share of between 92% and 95%. A recent poll of TV viewers showed that 40% indicate that commercial TV did not provide an acceptable range of programming for young people. They also complained of unbalanced news coverage, a lack of high-quality content and a plague of reality talent competitions on the commercial broadcasters. OPMA stressed that many rural areas lack access to the pubcasters.

This year, Once TV is launching “Holy Child,” the first episode in a short-run skein created by Canana prexy Cruz and penned by Mauricio Katz (Cannes hit “Miss Bala”) and Pedro Peirano (Sundance preem “The Maid”).

Now shooting on location in the jungles of Campeche, installments will topline Mexican indie regulars, including Gabino Rodriguez (“Perpetuum Mobile”) and Dagoberto Gama (“Amores Perros”).

“Child” is the second foray into broadcast TV for Gael Garcia Bernal’s and Diego Luna’s Canana, with “I’m Your Fan” (Soy tu fan) kicking off in April 2010 on Once TV. Boosted by the star power of Ana Claudia Talancon, the program was a critical success and fared relatively well in its timeslot; however, given the web’s limited reach, many of Mexico’s 110 million residents never even knew about it.

Beyond “Fan,” the channel had already begun to win kudos for provocative series like “XY” and “Bienes Raices,” both of which broached socially taboo topics, with no fear of flashing flesh.

That said, the new wave of Once’s skeins are going head-to-head with the twin idols of Mexican TV — soccer and telenovelas.

With soccer rights divided between Televisa and TV Azteca, and Once’s dedication to offer programming with substance, the success of the expansion will depend on the pubcaster’s ability to successfully tune in to the demands of those viewers who crave more from their TV than sports and skin.

An OPMA spokesperson confirmed that some money will flow to develop original programming; however, she was unable to produce a specific budget figure for production, and the budget outlay document obtained by Variety was non-specific.

Now entering its second season, “Fan” will run along with “Child”; however, Canana promises that the new series will be a stark departure from standard over-the-air fare, offering no-holds-barred consideration of themes like faith and science with a level of production not usually seen in Mexican TV production.

Time alone will tell if the avowed quality of these new programs — and the massive expansion of coverage will truly give Televisa and TV Azteca something to worry about, and result in a real shakeup in Mexican broadcasting.