It's not just novelas

The Spanish-language programming block is no longer just a block—it's a neighborhood.

Univision executives will be shouting uno mas
at their upfront presentation in New York this week, while Telemundo programmers preach a ratings turnaround and startup Azteca America prepares its first-ever lineup.

Dominant Univision is looking to double its reach during the upcoming TV season, with a spin-off broadcast network debuting in early January. Still to be named, it will likely be heavy on sports and everything Univision is not, network executives say. Its launch is only months before the 2002 World Cup, to which Univision owns the U.S. Spanish-language rights and is banking on to help get the newer network off the ground.

"The second network is meant to counter-program our network. We are certainly not looking to cannibalize our own network," says Univision's top sales executive, Tom McGarrity. "The whole concept behind our second network is to bring Spanish-language viewers who are not currently watching Spanish-language television into the fold."

Univision executives won't talk about programming initiatives for the startup, but soccer tournaments and plenty of sports programming are likely during prime time, when Univision and Telemundo are filled with novelas. According to McGarrity, Univision executives are considering a nightly sports-highlight program in the vein of ESPN's SportsCenter as a prime time anchor. Daytime programming on the startup will probably be geared to female viewers with less of a sports bent.

McGarrity says the second network will likely see a lot of delayed or repeat coverage from this summer's World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The original network will carry most of the games live, which means the second network will probably attract a lot of viewers because of the time difference: With an 11-hour difference, viewers will have to get up early in the morning to catch live telecasts. Co-owned cable network Galavisión will also carry World Cup games in the U.S.

As for Univision's fall lineup, McGarrity says the emphasis for the 2001-02 season will be on returning shows rather than a bounty of new programs. New series for the fall will likely include Pica y Se Extienda, a weekly gossip/variety series, a number of novelas and at least one talk show.

At Telemundo, network executives are continuing to talk up their "All Novelas, All the Time" strategy launched last fall. The network's prime time ratings have gained ground on Univision since President James MacNamara unveiled the 7-11 p.m. ET/PT strategy at last year's upfront.

"Last year, we decided that we are no longer going to try and force-feed the audience and that we would give them what they want: novelas," says MacNamara. "That is our lifeblood, and, as good as last year's lineup was, this one is better."

Telemundo has co-production deals for novelas
from several Latin-American production companies: Mexico's Argos Comunicacion, Brazil's Globo TV and Colombia's Caracol TV and RTI. New novelas for the fall include Uga Uga, Amor a Mil and Protagonistas. Protagonistas is actually a combination novela and reality show and will feature six sets of female and male actors facing different challenges and elimination. It will likely air during the November sweeps, MacNamara says.

Telemundo is also developing a number of comedies, including Mi Pequeña Mama, Solterita y a la Orden and its first-ever animated series. The network is also expected to announce a monthly Wonderful World of Disney block that will bring Telemundo some top Disney box-office hits to its weekend movie showcase.

As for Azteca America, the startup Spanish-language network will first hit the air in June with a mixture of sports, talk shows, news and, of course, prime time novelas. The network has scheduled a number of daytime talk shows, including a reunion show titled Tere: Emociones y Sentimientos hosted by Tere Bermea. The startup also has exclusive U.S. rights to Mexican League soccer games, and Los Protagonistas will be a sports-highlight show hosted by well-known personality José Fernández. Azteca America will carry novelas from 7 to 10 p.m. ET/PT, and programmers are still deciding between news and entertainment programming in the 10 p.m. hour.