Hot Mama Miami

Miami gained a reputation as the booming capital of Latin American television during the early 1990s, when there was a rush to expand satellite-delivered channels and cable systems south of the border. But as the U.S. media industry becomes increasingly aware of its own vibrant Hispanic population, Miami's Latino entertainment sound machine is reverberating louder and more clearly across the entire country.

“There are so many Hispanic companies here that it's not tough to maintain your accent,” jokes Constantino Voulgaris, director of business development for the soccer-minded channel Gol TV, a service that now has some 4 million households in the U.S.

Gol is one of about a dozen Hispanic channels based in the greater-Miami area that are directing their signals across the U.S. They range from MGM Worldwide's Casa Club TV to the country's two largest Latino program groups. While the Univision, Galavisión and Telefutura network triumvirate is headquartered in Los Angeles, their production and programming departments are located in Miami. And both Telemundo and Mun2 are based out of nearby Hialeah, Fla.

Two companies that provide distribution services for overseas channels that focus on U.S. coverage are also in the area: Condista, which is in Miami proper, and OlympuSAT, about an hour and a half away in West Palm Beach.

Add to that mix several program networks with their eyes firmly fixed on Central and South America — like HBO Olé group, MTV Networks Latin America and Discovery Latin America — and several large ad agencies specializing in Hispanic media. Two satellite providers that many of those programmers rely upon, PanAmSat Corp. and Globecast, also have major hubs in the market, as do a handful of companies that distribute Spanish-language programming around the globe.

Even a Hispanic technology company is there: Mastec, one of the largest players in the construction and engineering end of the cable business, which is currently run by Cuban-born Jorge Mas Canosa.

Needless to say, many Latino entertainers call Miami home. “Miami has an aura — the whole South Beach scene — that has talent wanting to live here. That lowers costs for us, too,” says Alfredo Richard, vice president of communications for Miami Beach-based Claxson, which has 14 TV brands — and distributes three channels in the U.S: music video channel HTV Musica; female-focused Utilísima; and Infinito, which specializes in programming about unknown and unexplained phenomena.

“It's been a decade-long process, but Miami is the global center for production of Spanish-language TV and multimedia production,” Richard claims.

Voulgaris says Gol mulled the idea of basing itself in Los Angeles, but in the end, Miami won out. He notes that it's equidistant from the Los Angeles production community, and programmers in Italy and Spain. Transportation is easy from South Florida to most of the southern countries that generate the soccer matches for the network.

No matter whether or not you think Miami is the center of the Hispanic universe, this much is clear: that universe is not exactly utopian. “The ups and downs of the Latin American economy hit us too, and the Hispanic music industry has taken a hit just like the rest of the music business,” Richard says.

What's more, as has been true for the American production industry in general, cheaper crews and locations in Canada and Mexico have siphoned away business. But Florida creates some incentives to keep work in the state, Richard notes. Video production can be a multibillion dollar billion business, and that brings a lot of attention to the industry from regulators.

Miami has made an effort to attract television and film production, and not just for the Spanish-language market. The community has set up a central film office, Filmiami, which provides 24-hour location and logistics support to companies that work there. Via its Web site, Filmiami offers producers free permit services for 24 communities throughout Dade County so crews can complete their planning before they arrive in the state.

The city has also built incentives into its tax structure. Productions pay no sales tax on the equipment they purchase or rent in the area, or on the “goods manufactured or produced in Florida for export,” according to Filmiami. The county also waives permit fees for shoots that take place on county property. The Miami-Dade County Tourist Development Council grants program also offers funds for companies that tape “significant cultural or special events, including sports activities and TV or film original projects that are deemed to promote tourism.”

The Hispanic-focused ad agencies in Miami certainly haven't faced the same economic problems as other sectors. Among those in the market: Zubi Advertising Services, which creates campaigns for American Airlines and Ford Motor Co.; AccentMarketing, which counts among its clients General Motors Corp. and Unilever; Publicis Sanchez & Levitan LLC, which creates campaigns for BMW and Nestlé USA; and Siboney USA, with clients including Colgate Palmolive and the Kellogg Co.

The tremendous growth in ad-spending in Hispanic media as a whole has certainly been enjoyed by the Miami agency crowd. Alfredo Pedroso, senior vice president and director of operations for AccentMarketing, says his agency reported a 56% increase in gross billings last year, which he attributes in part to recognition by Fortune 500 companies of the “Latinization of pop culture.”

As that Latinization trend continues, it's clear that the diverse media community in Miami will continue to move to a very vibrant beat.