Spanish-language network targets young audience

By Gary Gentile The Associated Press
Saturday January 12, 2002

LOS ANGELES — The first movie scheduled to air on new Spanish-language television network TeleFutura was chosen to send a clear signal about the increasing importance of Hispanic broadcasting — “Back to the Future.” 

TeleFutura is being launched Monday by Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., the dominant Spanish language media company in the United States. 

Headquartered in Miami, the new network will reach more than 70 percent of Spanish speakers in this country by broadcasting over 42 stations. 

Its menu of dubbed Hollywood movies, sports, original talk shows and local news is aimed at attracting younger viewers who are not currently watching Spanish-language programs. 

“The clear mission is to pull in a lot of bilingual Hispanics who right now watch a majority of English-language TV,” said Marla Backer, an analyst with investment firm Brean Murray & Co. 

Analysts have high hopes for TeleFutura, in large part because the Hispanic population is tremendously underserved by the media, despite their growing numbers and buying power. 

The 2000 census showed that the U.S. Hispanic population grew by nearly 60 percent in the past decade to 35.3 million. 

Mainstream advertisers are waking up to the buying power that figure represents, pouring millions of dollars into Spanish-language advertising, which is fueling the growth of programs and networks. 

“Over the next 20 years, the Hispanic population is expected to grow from 35 to 55 million,” said David Joyce, an analyst with Guzman & Co. “Their purchasing power is expected to grow at three times the rate of the country as a whole. That’s the sweet spot these advertisers are going after.” 

Major advertisers such as AT&T Corp., PepsiCo Inc. and Miller Brewing Co. have committed to advertising on the new network. 

That will give a major boost to Univision, which already has a huge lead over its chief rival, Telemundo, in the battle for ratings. The 20 most popular primetime programs among Hispanic audiences earlier this year were all on Univision, according to a Nielsen Media Research report last August. 

Telemundo, however, may become more competitive after being purchased by NBC for $2 billion in cash and stock last October. A third fledgling network, Azteca America, has four stations in the U.S., all in the West. 

With Telefutura, Univision aims to provide counter-programming in primetime to distinguish it from the popular novellas running on its own network and Telemundo. 

“If a Hispanic happens not to like novellas, they turn away from Spanish-language television,” said Ray Rodriguez, president and chief operating officer of Univision Networks. “That is happening with about half the audience at this point.” 

Popular Spanish soap operas will continue to air on Univision and earlier in the day on TeleFutura. But the new network is hoping to draw bigger audiences to primetime with dubbed versions of top Hollywood films that were hits at the box office and on pay-per-view channels in Latin America. 

The first week will see movies such as “Fearless,” featuring Rosie Perez and Benecio Del Toro, and “The Mambo Kings.” 

“We know it works for Hispanics because we’ve seen the ratings in Mexico and Colombia and those countries,” said Rodriguez. “On Sunday, we’re running “Batman Returns,” which was a huge hit in Latin America.” 

Univision, which also runs cable television channel Galavision, has been expanding aggressively over the past few years, adding a record label and Internet portal while buying local television stations. 

It has made long-term alliances with production companies, tying up top programming far into the future. 

The company’s stock has more than doubled since September, from a low of about $18 to more than $40. Shares were down $1.14 to $38.79 at the close of regular trading Friday on the New York Stock Exchange. 

The company’s prospects prompted UBS Warburg to initiate coverage Thursday with a rating of “strong buy.” Analyst Leland Westerfield forecast revenue growth of more than 15 percent over the next two years and a target stock price of $51. 


On the Net: