Hola! Prime Time

TV's reality craze has finally hit Spanish-language TV. Already addicted to steamy novelas
and high-octane sports, Hispanic viewers go elsewhere for their reality fix; Fox's American Idol
and CBS's Survivor
are favorites. Now looking to keep viewers en la familia, Univision, its sister broadcast network Telefutura, and NBC Universal-owned Telemundo are diving into reality next season.

"We wouldn't do it unless the [shows] were clever and could get big ratings," says Univision COO Ray Rodriguez. He's confident the network's upcoming reality duo on Fridays can deliver.

Telemundo is equally buoyed, adding three reality series this season.

The big motivation is dinero.

Since the 2000 census showed the explosive growth of U.S. Hispanics, advertisers are boosting their marketing efforts to the segment. This year's Hispanic upfront is expected to climb past $1 billion, nearly a 20% jump over last season. In the 2003-04 upfront, Spanish-language broadcasters grabbed nearly 140 advertisers. Now they hope to grow such categories as pharmaceutical, technology, and financials. (Merrill Lynch media analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates an upfront of $810 million for Univision and $300 million for Telemundo. By contrast, English-language broadcast networks are expected to rake in $8.4 billion.)

Will reality up the Hispanic market's take? The risk is that U.S. Hispanic viewers won't care about regular people. "They care about celebrities," says People en Español
magazine Assistant Managing Editor Armando Correa. Reality shows have been airing in Mexico for a while. Ratings were OK, Correa says, until the breakout hit Big Brother VIP 3. Star power shot it to No. 1.

Another concern is the power of the novelas, which rule Hispanic prime time. When a novela
ends, the story is wrapped up, and a new soap opera airs. The play pattern is faster than the general market's one-night-per-week checkerboard. But it limits the networks' chance to schedule other formats. Earlier stabs at English-language–style scheduling flopped.

Yet the lifeblood of any network is growth. Spanish-language channels have done the math, which is why they hope to mimic the success of Idol
and Survivor—on their own terms.

Univision's two reality offerings tag along with proven general-market formats. Lo Veremos Todo de Niurka y Bobby
(We'll See Everything About Niurka and Bobby) stars celebrity newlyweds Niurka Marcos and Bobby Larios, à la MTV matrimonial hit Newlyweds; Marcos currently appears on the Mexican
version of Big Brother. And Bachelorette
clone Apostando al Amor
(Betting on Love) asks one lovely Latina to choose among 30 suitors.

Niurka y Bobby
will "have a big rating," predicts Correa. "She is on the Mexican Big Brother VIP 3, and it's very popular because of her."

Sister network Telefutura has four reality programs on its slate, including Objectivo Fama
(Objective: Fame), where 18 wannabes vie to become a music star. Another show En Busca de un Sueño
(In Search of a Dream) helps viewers live out a fantasy, from makeovers to reunions.

Telemundo is hitching its fortune to veteran TV/music/film producer Emilio Estefan, who brings Nuevas Voces de America, an American Idol-style competition in which the winner gets a $200,000 contract prize. La Hacienda
plops 16 city slickers on a farm together, to determine who is the best "ranchero." Think Survivor
on a ranch.

El Principe Azul,
from the creator of Telemundo's first reality venture, La Cenicienta, features 20 beautiful Latinas vying for a handsome man. The twist? He has a secret that won't be revealed until the end. Yet despite the reality influx, novelas

For the coming season, Univision plans four new novelas, Telefutura two, and Telemundo seven. All are pursuing more U.S.-based productions to reflect the lives of U.S. Hispanics, rather than a reliance on cheap imports. And Telemundo is ramping up its overall efforts, going to 100%-original programming in prime (some are co-productions). The network will spend about $60 million on programming.

Telemundo's goal is to chip away at market leader Univision. It is a tall order. Combined, Univision and Telefutura control more than 75% of U.S. Hispanic viewership. Telemundo desperately wants a piece of the action. NBC plunked down $2 billion for Telemundo, and the investment has begun to pay off. The network's ratings are rising, with March Nielsen marks in adults 18-49 up 100% from March 2003. And audience share grew 26% in March, up from 14% a year ago.

Telemundo's programming push is, in part, a response to Univision's exclusive partnership with international producer Televisa, the biggest supplier of Hispanic novelas. Telemundo is using eight production facilities—including four domestic ones—and tailoring its fare as "Mexican-neutral" to reach its core audience. The network should also get a boost from 130 hours of Olympic coverage from Athens.

"We're not expecting an explosion, but a gradual, steady growth," says Ray Escobar, Telemundo executive vice president of programming. "We want a trend in the right direction."

Along with beloved novelas, look for more specials and events. Univision is bringing back the legendary Veronica Castro in her own variety show, Viva Vero, in which
she'll interview celebrity guests. Another highlight is Selena … 10th Anniversary Memorial Concert.

Says Escobar: "It has never been hotter and it has never been hipper to be Hispanic."