Heritage Proves Diversity Is a Business

In the past three months, The Heritage Networks, a syndicator that concentrates on distribution of ethnically diverse programming, has substantially expanded its empire of urban-targeted programming.

"We are revamping and relaunching," says President and CEO Frank Mercado-Valdes. "I expect us to go from generating $30 million in the upfronts last year to $90 million this year."

Last week, The Heritage Networks sealed a five-year, $10 million deal to be the producer, distributor and advertising sales force for the legendary Showtime at the Apollo. Last year, Heritage won a one-year deal for the show, beating out Western International Syndication.

Warner Bros. Domestic Television is financially backing the program and co-distributing it with Heritage. "I've known Frank for a couple of years, and I've admired what he has done," says President Dick Robertson. "He's a hard-working guy and a real entrepreneur from the old-style days. I've always thought that, if Frank had the proper backing and some support, it would really help him a lot."

Besides gaining valuable financial support from Warner Bros., Heritage is continuing to team with storied Hollywood producer Suzanne De Passe to produce the variety show from Harlem's famed theater.

The Apollo
partnership between De Passe and Mercado-Valdes has blossomed into a relationship between Heritage and De Passe Entertainment. The latter is going to take over production of all of Heritage's first-run product. Besides Showtime at the Apollo, that includes fashion show 'N Gear; Livin' Large, starring Carmen Electra; and Weekend Vibe, a music hour co-produced with Quincy Jones's Vibe

"By July, we expect to have fully operating offices with Suzanne De Passe in Los Angeles that will be both production and sales offices," Mercado-Valdes says.

Now that he has Showtime at the Apollo
firmly in hand, he plans to sell it in a two-hour block with Weekend Vibe, a combination that already is paying off for Heritage in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The block airs after Saturday Night Live
on NBC owned-and-operated stations.

Heritage expects to use that block to help market its new acquisition, Resurrection Blvd., the rights to which Heritage just acquired from Paramount. The show, which ran on Showtime from 2000 to 2002, is one of the only all-Latino dramas ever to air on U.S. television. Heritage plans to use Resurrection Blvd.
to gain entry to the underserved English-speaking Latino market and to launch a subsidiary, Latino Heritage Networks.

Mercado-Valdes would like ultimately to launch Asian Heritage Networks along with the already established African Heritage Networks. "We are constantly on the move to get shows that celebrate heritage."

Using a strategy that has brought a great deal of success, Heritage paid Paramount upfront its estimated costs for all the advertising time on the 56 available episodes of Resurrection Blvd.
Heritage will sell the series to advertisers looking to reach Latinos. Because of the company's relatively small size, it can spend more time and energy tapping into ethnic advertisers than Paramount, which has more shows to sell. Heritage splits the upside with Paramount, so both companies come out ahead.

"We can take a broken series [meaning limited run] and clear it on a two-year window with stations," Mercado-Valdes says. "Ordinarily, if a syndicator doesn't have 100 episodes, it isn't doing anything."

Because advertisers are so interested in reaching English-speaking Latinos, he believes Resurrection Blvd.
will find a solid advertising base. Moreover, with the show coming off premium channel Showtime, relatively few viewers have seen it.

Likewise, Heritage acquired from Paramount the advertising rights to sitcom The Parkers, starring Mo'nique and currently airing on UPN on Monday nights.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.