Panel: Multicasting Spawns Opportunities for Spanish Networks

New York -- Channel capacity for hundreds of new local broadcast channels that will be spawned by the mandated conversion from analog to digital broadcasting in February 2009 bodes well for the burgeoning Hispanic TV programming business, executives said Thursday.

Equity Media Holdings chief strategy officer Mario Beau Ferrari said what drove his company to buy two TV stations in New York last month was the channel capacity for new programming that can be created by splitting one signal into five networks.

“The thought process there was what New York looks like in a digital world, having 10 channels instead of two,” Ferrari said here at the Hispanic Television Summit sponsored by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable.

Equity Media owns a combination of 121 TV stations, licenses and permits, many of which the company has not used yet to build TV stations, Ferrari said. He suggested that that much of the construction would occur after February 2009.

The expanded channel capacity that comes with digital multicasting may also lead some local stations to time shift TV programming, predicted Stuart Rekant, CEO of Juniper Content, which owns Sorpresa!, a Spanish-language network targeted at kids and families.

Rekant said he sees an opportunity for Sorpresa! to sell three-hour blocks of kids and family programming to local broadcasters, which could help stations meet an FCC mandate that they broadcast three hours weekly of kids and educational programming.

Challenges Spanish-language networks face in obtaining prime channel positions on cable and satellite systems was another key topic of debate for the panel. While one representative for TV Azteca in the audience complained about being assigned to channel 807 on Time Warner Cable’s New York City system, Rekant, whose Sorpresa! is on channel 829, said it wasn’t a big concern.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Rekant responded. “We’re happy to be distributed on Time Warner. I think the technology of the channel doesn’t matter – it’s how you get attention as a channel, and then they [viewers] will find out what channel you’re on.”