- Yakity Yak: "El Bla-Blazo" challenges contestants to know their celebrity gossip. - The skinny: "El Gordo y la Flaca" report daily on the entertainment industry. (r.) "Super Astros" brings professional wrestling to Univision. SPANISH-LANGUAGE TV UPGRADES PROGRAM FARE: A HOST OF NEW SHOWS SIMILAR TO GENERAL MARKET LINE-UP MAY BRING NEW VIEWERS, MORE MARKETERS

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The major hispanic TV networks are taking different approaches to the U.S. Hispanic market.

Univision Communications is serving up new "novellas" and more family oriented programming, while Telemundo Group is reaching for the stars by offering a fall line-up meant to mirror general-market network TV.

An increase in bilingual TV programming options coupled with the emergence of demographically segmented channels is giving advertisers more opportunities to reach the U.S. market's estimated 30 million Hispanics.


In 1997, marketers spent $1.4 billion in Spanish-language advertising, according to an annual survey conducted by Hispanic Business -- about $780 million of that went to national, network and local TV.

In 1990, advertisers spent $628.2 million in all media, nearly double the $333.5 million in 1985, notes Hispanic Business Editor Maria Zate.

Univision has long been the undisputed leader in Spanish-language TV, with such well-known programming as "Sabado Gigante" and "Cristina."


Telemundo played second fiddle until Sony Pictures Entertainment, Tele-Communications Inc.'s Liberty Media Corp., and two venture capital companies acquired Telemundo for $539 million. The deal was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in July and closed this month.

The Telemundo partners injected a dose of Sony's programming prowess, TCI's distribution muscle, the investors' cash and surging adrenaline into the floundering network. As expected, the result was a wholesale programming change, ranging from new productions to Sony's library of movies.

"That [level of programming, financing and distribution] has never been available to Telemundo," says Alan Sokol, chief operating officer of Telemundo and former senior VP-corporate development at Sony Pictures.

For example, "Reyes y Rey" is a new one-hour show described as a Spanish-language "Starsky & Hutch." "Angeles" is being compared with "Charlie's Angels."


Children's programming will include "El Mundo de Bobby," "Los Beetleborgs" "Power Ranger Turbo" and "X-men."

Univision, which gets much of its programming from Venevision and Televisa, also will add new programs into daytime and weekend dayparts, according to a Univision spokeswoman.

Univision executives would not agree to an interview.

Weekdays will feature two hours of novelas, down from five hours of novellas, down from five last season. Replacing those three hours will be talk, entertainment and game shows such as "El Bla-Blazo," where contestants compete to see who knows more celebrity gossip.

Weekends will feature family-oriented shows such as "Quiero Ser Estrella," a children's talent-search variety show; "Los Super Astros de la Lucha," a professional wrestling show. The wrestling hour is produced for Univision by the World Wrestling Federation.

Evenings will continue to featured three hours of novellas. Children's programming will begin at 7 p.m. followed by teen shows at 8 p.m. and traditional adult oriented programming starts at 9 p.m. The goal is to deliver high ratings across all demographics, with no departure from the novela format, according to Univision.


"Clearly in prime, [novellas] are a powerhouse, so we're sticking with it," the spokeswoman says. "Every other form of programming has been thrown at novellas and they keep delivering."

Undaunted by its rival's challenge, Univision's spokeswoman says the company hopes Telemundo's make-over will help boost the entire viewer pie, as Univision and Telemundo bring bilingual Hispanics back to the Spanish-language networks from general-market TV, the spokeswoman says.

Telemundo Exec VP Don Tringali agrees and says that historically the Hispanic viewer has been "poorly served" in general-market TV.

To be sure, the production of Spanish-language shows "loosely based on proven [English-language] hits" is no guarantee for success, he says.


But playing off the network's new theme, "Being Latino in the U.S. is the best of both worlds," Mr. Tringali says he believes a cross-over could be Telemundo's formula for success.

"The brand and overall vision will drive the types of programming," he says. "[The content] is really geared toward the U.S. Hispanic experience. That's really what we want to hit home."

Both networks will continue to run all Spanish-language programming, and neither accepts English-language ads, executives said.

That could change at Telemundo, Mr. Tringali hints. As Telemundo develops share among bilingual Hispanics, he "would not be surprised to see more bilingual programming."

"This is really uncharted waters," says a cautiously optimistic Joe Zubizarreta, exec VP at Zubi Advertising Services, Miami.


Mr. Zubizarreta says his agency handles about $23 million in TV billings, most of which goes to Univision and Telemundo. Mr. Zubizarreta says he will continue to steer such clients as Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division and S.C. Johnson & Son's Raid and Edge products to both networks.

"Can this regime make a dent in the Univision fortress, and if so, how big a dent can they make? Anything they do outside of the norm will be interesting," he says.

Over the past five years, the U.S. Hispanic TV market has seen the arrival of new Spanish-language cable networks, including offerings from Discovery Communications, women-oriented Gems TV, CBS TeleNoticias and Fox TV. Even the number of local-market broadcast channels has increased.

Hispanic radio veteran Eduardo Caballero has launched Mas Musica TV, a 24-hour Spanish-language music network seen in top California and Texas markets. Si Television has created programming with Univision-owned Galavision in a national test for bilingual programming.

In addition, TV Azteca announced in March that it intends to launch its own network to serve U.S. Hispanics. TV Azteca plans to buy into local-market stations in California, Texas and Chicago.

Spanish-language stations are benefiting from the growing populations in major U.S. Hispanic markets. This year, Univision-owned stations in Miami and New York outperformed general-market stations during the May sweeps.

Roberto Ruiz, director of Hispanic marketing for Money Gram Payment Systems, says he is optimistic following his attendance at Telemundo's upfront sales presentations this spring.

Calling the new line-up and investment in production values "an encouraging experiment," Mr. Ruiz says he's hopeful that the network's new take on the Hispanic market will mean more options in his ad buys.


Depending upon the daypart, Univision's share of viewers watching Hispanic TV viewing ranges from 82% to 87%, according to Nielsen Hispanic TV Index.

What's more, with some 85% of the audience accustomed to watching novellas during prime time, can viewing habits be changed, Mr. Ruiz wonders.

"[Telemundo is] creating a whole new paradigm here," says Mr. Ruiz.

Advertisers and agency executives are hopeful any shift will result in better negotiating options.

Certainly, one network with a dominant share equates to few options for advertisers, says Jose Del Cueto, president of TransAmerica Media Group, Miami, a media buying shop specializing in the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets.

"From an advertiser's standpoint, you need a more balanced market," he says. "In a two-network market, you can't have one with 85-plus share. It doesn't make for good negotiating."


Even the continued addition of cable networks and broadcast channels potentially could steer bilingual viewers from general market to Hispanic programming, says Mr. Del Cueto.

"[Spanish-language] cable is set to explode in the U.S.," he says. "There's 100 cable channels going south [into Latin America]. [Programming] will [also] gravitate north. As capacity grows with technology, there will be a market out there for it. We're watching for cable."


Cross-over advertising targeting Hispanics who speak Spanish and English is on the rise, with marketers using more diversity to hit a wider audience in both Spanish-language and general market programs, says Ms. Zate.


All the buzz surrounding Spanish-language TV this fall has advertisers wondering how the market will play out, says Luis Miguel Messianu, chief creative officer and partner with Del Rivero Messiunu Advertising, Coral Gables, Fla. Mr. Messianu says his clients, having an "eye opening" experience from the Univision-Telemundo play.

"A lot of new [TV] players are emerging, and now you can really target and go after a certain niche," he says. "This is just the beginning."

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