NOLA Says Hola!

Telemundo will launch a full-power Spanish-language affiliate in New Orleans in mid May aimed at the significant influx of Hispanic residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Although enormous challenges await fledgling WHMM New Orleans, Ann Gaulke, Telemundo senior VP of affiliate relations, says the network sees great opportunity in the region, thanks to “unprecedented growth as the city works to rebuild.”

While New Orleans' African-American population has slipped from an estimated 35% pre-Katrina to 22% post-Katrina, the Hispanic population has swelled from 6% to some 12%-14%, according to census and Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals estimates. Television executives, consultants and ad agencies in the area attribute the influx to the growth of reconstruction jobs since the hurricane struck in August 2005.

“We saw an enormous demographic shift with the migration of Hispanic workers,” says Randy Nonberg, president/COO of Una Vez Mas, which launched the Azteca America affiliate WTNO New Orleans in August 2006.

Moreover, the new arrivals (primarily Mexican) aren't likely to be leaving any time soon. “The reconstruction is going to take years; they're likely to stay and make their homes here,” says Joann Habisreitinger, media director for Louisiana-based media buyer Zehnder Communications, who also notes a substantial surge in Hispanic births in the area.

A full-power Spanish-language station would hold considerable appeal for marketers, media buyers believe, with such categories as fast-food restaurants and automotive stepping to the fore.

And local businesses on the rebound are more likely to turn to a new station to spread the word. “There's the need for viable advertising for businesses that need to get back on their feet,” says Gordon Borrell, CEO of media-research firm Borrell Associates.

Although Telemundo declined to shed light on its plans for WHMM, consultants expect the bulk of the programming to come from the network, including tried-and-true game shows and entertainment, as opposed to hyper-local fare. Indeed, parent company NBC Universal closed six local Telemundo newsrooms last fall as part of its NBCU 2.0 cutbacks. Says Borrell, “There are greater profit margins if they don't plow resources into local programming.”

Scant Pre-Launch Buzz

Despite talk of opportunity, insiders warn that the risks remain considerable; some suspect that many of the new arrivals will clear out in the near term. And Nielsen has yet to issue a ratings book for New Orleans since the storm knocked its DMA ranking from 43 to 54. Even if Nielsen issues one for July, as scheduled, the two-year lag between sweeps will surely complicate ad sales.

And if WHNN is to succeed, Telemundo, will need to market the new station heavily. Asked to comment only a few weeks before the proposed launch, many media buyers had heard little of it. “There's no buzz, no pre-selling, no 'can we come meet with you?'” says Habistreitinger. “I think they could use a little publicity.”

Still, most agree that opportunity abounds for Telemundo. Local-TV revenue for the market shrank from $106.6 million in 2004 to just $80.7 million in 2005, according to BIA Financial. But the DMA rebounded to $93.3 million in 2006 and is projected to equal 2004's total in 2008.

“There's been a pretty good bounce-back,” says Borrell. “Hispanic media does very well these days, and traditional media like TV does particularly well.”

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.