Cultural plate getting crowded

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The multicultural upfront TV calendar, dominated by the Spanish-language networks of Univision Communications and NBC-owned Telemundo, is crowding up this year.

Viacom's Black Entertainment Television basic-cable channel held its first-ever upfront advertising and programming presentation, defending its territory as TV networks introduce more African-American targeted programming. The April 13 event opened with a hip-hop medley by Missy Elliott, followed by a videotaped parody of the "Twilight Zone" TV series featuring Louis Carr, BET's president-advertising sales, in the role of host Rod Serling. In BET's version, the Twilight Zone was a place where media buyers were completely out of touch with African-Americans and their buying power.

"We're seeing imitators flirting or having one-night stands with the black consumer market," Mr. Carr said in an interview. "A lot of people think they're reaching the black consumer market if they have one black sitcom here or a black drama there."

WILL OUTPACE ANGLO GROWTH

This year, Spanish-language TV revenue is forecast by TNS Media Intelligence/CMR to grow by 15.7%, continuing to outpace the growth rate of English-language TV. CMR predicts network TV will grow by 9.6%.

Publicis Groupe's Tapestry puts Hispanic ad spending overall at $3.4 billion in 2004 and estimates that TV accounts for 70% of that total.

"I don't think the noise level about how big and important the Hispanic market is has ever been louder," Tom McGarrity, president-sales at Univision Networks, says, adding, "People are looking for alternatives to high-price [costs per thousand] and deteriorating audiences" in the English-language market.

At Telemundo, from "April [2003] to April [2004], our prime-time audience has doubled," says Jim McNamara, president-CEO. "NBC let us triple our investment in prime-time programming, and this year it will go up again."

Telenovelas are Telemundo's prime-time staple.

Steve Mandala, exec VP-sales at Telemundo, says, "I think our share of audience will be up to 30% by the upfront."

This summer, for the first time, Telemundo will broadcast the Olympics, a benefit of NBC's ownership of the Spanish-language network.

The Hispanic upfront kicks off at 6 p.m. Monday, May 17, with a programming showcase at Latin nightspot Noche by newcomer SiTV, an English-language cable channel aimed at Hispanics that debuted in late February. Doing its second upfront, Azteca America will overlap SiTV with a presentation starting at 7:30 p.m. Azteca America, owned by Mexico's No. 2 network TV Azteca, is still struggling with U.S. distribution.

Telemundo's upfront on Tuesday night, followed by Univision on Wednesday morning, always command the biggest turnout from Hispanic ad agencies and, increasingly, general-market media buyers. The Spanish-language TV audience split is generally at least 70% for Univision and its second network Telefutura, vs. less than 30% for Telemundo. Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN Deportes also holds its upfront on Wednesday.

MORE REALITY

Look for reality programs to be showcased at all the upfront presentations. Some are already returning for second or even third seasons. Telemundo jumped into the reality category first with "Protagonistas de Novela," in which wanna-be actors vied for a role in a Telemundo soap opera. That was followed by "Protagonistas de la Musica" for aspiring singers. The latest version of "Protagonistas" will be unveiled at the upfront. Telemundo's other hit reality show, "La Cenicienta" ("Cinderella"), is likely to be back in a new form; in that show, a young woman chooses among her dozen suitors with lots of help, Latin style, from her family.

At its first upfront presentation, SiTV will showcase its new reality show "Urban Jungle," in which nine preppie Anglo kids are cast into a Los Angeles barrio where they must survive on the menial jobs usually done by recent immigrants. "The last one standing wins $50,000," says an SiTV spokeswoman.

MORE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Azteca America has been gradually making its Mexican-produced reality show "La Academia" more U.S. Hispanic. Casting for the aspiring singers who live together, compete and hold a weekly live concert is done in the U.S., too, and about one-third of the songs performed are in English.

But Azteca America sees technology-and high-tech product integration-as the way to make an impression on marketers and agencies. Programs are made in Mexico and aired on TV Azteca there, but product shots, for instance, can be virtually inserted in just the U.S. Hispanic version if that's what an advertiser wants. In one novela, a box of Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gain detergent was added to a scene of characters unpacking groceries. In another novela, a virtual Kmart shopping bag sat in the background when the Mexican-made soap opera aired in the U.S.

"When you're far behind, you have to be creative to attract people's attention," says Luis Echarte, Azteca America's president-CEO.

Digital cable is also adding new Spanish-language options for marketers. ESPN Deportes launched in February as a 24-hour sports channel with its own Spanish-language version of "SportsCenter." An earlier digital entry from Viacom, VH1 Latino, started taking advertising last year. And for fans of HGTV and home improvement shows, there is now Casa Club from MGM Latino.

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