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U.S. Latin superchannels bring fear and hope. Losses a problem.

"Stringing together an ad hoc network for all Latin America as well as the Spanish speaking population of the United States." Carlos Barba in a 1985 Video Age article

"A Latin American superchannel will become a reality during the 1990's." Carlos Barba in a 1991 Video Age interview

From those times, when the now president of Venevision International could talk to the press, to 1993, Barba's dream is slowly becoming a reality. Unfortunately, now that the going is getting interesting, the usually loquacious Barba wouldn't talk to the press (or maybe he was told not to) about the knots and bolts of a Spanish-language network for the Americas.

Patching together past articles on Barba and an interview with Telemundo president Joaquin Blaya, with that of Univision's people, M/Video Age can now present a good picture of this pan-American Hispanic TV network. Telemundo, owned by New York financier Saul Steinberg, is a Spanish language network in the U.S. Univision is the other U.S. Hispanic TV network, which was recently sold for $545 million by Hallmark Co. to a consortium comprised of Jerry Perenchio (U.S.), Emilio Azcarraga's Televisa (Mexico) and Gustavo Cisneros' Venevision (Venezuela). The question of a master plan for a pan-American TV network is generating anxiety among the Hispanic (U.S.) and Latin American communities. Indeed, the National Hispanic Media Coalition in the U.S. filed suit to prevent the sale of Univision to the Azcarraga's group.

As early as 1991 M/Video Age reported that "the ambitious project of Mexico's Emilio Azcarraga, to be called El Canal de las Americas, would be a wide-ranging 24 hour program service." In i987, Azcarraga was booted out from the U.S. when the FCC forced him to give up his SIN Hispanic TV network that later became Univision under the Hallmark banner. With Mexico's new treaty with the United States, and Mexico opening up its TV market (lessening Televisa's grip), Azcarraga is looking to get back in the U.S. for the base for his pan-American network. The U.S.' predominantly Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Colombian mix represents the perfect ethnic composition in which to base such a super network. During his "exile" from the U.S., Azcarraga kept busy acquiring interests in TV stations in Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador and Puerto Rico.

Even though the current U.S, Hispanic TV program market is not worth more than that of Puerto Rico, Azcarraga's U.S. presence is generating anxiety among Latin American program producers and distributors who fear they will be shut out. It is a widely held belief (but equally and forcefully denied) that Televisa's and Venevision's programs will be dominating Univision's schedule. The fact that such an act would trigger antitrust actions and force the U.S. government, once again, to look into Azcarraga's practices, does not seem to relieve the general anxiety.

It is also believed that the strong personalities of Azcarraga and Cisneros will eventually clash (we're talking about Mexican and mostly Cuban ethnic groups here!). The scenario presented calls for Cisneros taking control of Telemundo since no one is sure how long Steinberg is willing to shore-up his losses (estimated at $300 million to date). Azcarraga, through Perenchio, would keep control of Univision. Also in the picture is the development of a third Hispanic network. According to Telemundo's Blaya, the U.S. TV market with its 23 million Hispanics (expected to become 32 million by 2010) can support yet another Spanish-language TV network, even though both networks are losing money. Additional competition is also coming from the Anglo media interests. Recently, HBO made the announcement that it is developing programming for America's Hispanic viewers.

After failing to attract African-American viewers with specially targeted shows, which are also difficult to sell overseas, both CBS and NBC are now looking more closely at the Hispanic population and Latin novelas that are popular worldwide. Similarly, in syndication, MTM is banking on a Brazilian children's show to appeal to both Anglo and Spanish viewers in the U.S. With this newfound awareness, the needs of better monitoring the Hispanic audience has become more acute. Last month, Nielsen Media research joined Arbitron and Strategic Research Corp. in recording the Hispanic TV viewership.

The stakes are high, and the game is for the privileged few with money and vision. A potential market Of 200 Million people is involved here, with the power to change the landscape of both U.S. and Latin American television.
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Title Annotation:A World of Hispanic TV
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Of Media and People.
Next Article:Best TV award in Colombia to RCN.

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