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Q&A With Olympusat’s Kim Reed Fragione

Earlier this month, program distributor Olympusat announced the purchase of Sorpresa, the Hispanic children's programming service, for an undisclosed amount. Sorpresa, which had been owned by Juniper Content, is now part of Olympusat's Hispanic Pack, consisting of 11 Spanish-language channels. On the heels of the Sorpresa acquisition, Hispanic TV Update contributor Laura Martinez spoke to Kim Reed Fragione, Olympusat's vice president of business and network development. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: What is your Hispanic Package and when did it launch?

Kim Reed Frangione: We launched it about eight years ago. We were the first company other than Comcast to aggregate Hispanic services and multiplex them together in one satellite. We created a technical solution for cable operators at that time -- rather than a cable operator having to go pull down services from multiple satellites using several receivers, we did that for them. And because we also represent the networks for sales and distribution, it became a one-stop shop. Today, our channels include Cine Mexicano, Gran Cine, Ultra Latino, Latelenovela, TV Colombia, La Familia Cosmovision, TV Chile, Cable Noticias, Momentum TV and TBN Enlace.

All the networks are available individually and ultimately, the operator is going to dictate what they carry and it's going to be flexible depending on each market's needs. Still, we believe our networks are a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

MCN: How does Sorpresa fit into your overall Hispanic offering?
KRF: It really rounds out and complements our offering. We have networks in the top genres: movies, telenovelas, sports, news, family programming and entertainment. Sorpresa, in our opinion, was a great complement to our family offering. Although La Familia has some content targeted to kids, we didn't really have a children's network per se. The purchase also fit our strategy because what we do is acquire networks that benefit our economies of scale.

MCN: Do you have a staff in place to be in charge of Sorpresa? What about programming?
KRF: Our plans are both to improve the programming but also to maintain a good portion of their existing series. María Gomez, a veteran of the industry, is working on this and at the end of the year we will be announcing some new additions to the lineup to take the network to the next level.

MCN: How many of your Hispanic channels do you actually own?
We own Cine Mexicano, Gran Cine; we are 50% partners in Latelenovela and now Sorpresa. What is key these days, particularly when you are dealing with a Hispanic tier distribution, is to have economies of scale. If you don't have these, it's very difficult financially to make it work. By having an affiliate team that represents a lot of channels is beneficial to us but also to operators. On the English side, we own Funimation, a 24/7 animation channel, which we'll be taking to [HDTV] very soon.

MCN: You have a 24/7 channel featuring telenovelas. How is it doing?
KRF: We actually strip the telenovelas seven days a week, giving the audience an opportunity to actually follow them every day. These are telenovelas from the major producers throughout the globe, including Telefé and Globo. We are delivering content that hasn't been seen in the U.S. We just obtained ratings for it in Puerto Rico, and we found out it is one of the best performing networks there.

MCN: How important is your Hispanic offering in the overall strategy of the company?
Our plans are to continue to improve the programming so that we are delivering on the promise of being the top owner and/or distributor of Spanish-language content. We see the market as one that has a great opportunity to grow. As you know, the Hispanic population is underpenetrated when it comes to cable and satellite. The commitment by the [satellite and] cable operators to continue to work with companies like ourselves in improving their offering will eventually improve everybody's bottom line.

MCN: Any future launches?
We're actually close to launching Parables, the first Christian movie network, with movies, documentaries and series, also in HD. Given the popularity of the religious sector, we see there is an underserved niche for families interested in safe content and messaging. We are pre-marketing the network and is scheduled to launch in Q2 of 2010. We are looking very closely at marketing Parables to Hispanics.
We are in negotiations and looking at the acquisition of two more networks, one of which is in the Spanish-language arena though I cannot disclose more at the moment.

MCN: What would you say is the most challenging thing to accomplish in this economy?
For us, the biggest challenge is to penetrate the markets that we have not yet garnered distribution in and certainly with the economy, some operators have changed their timetables. Ad-sales revenue is also always challenging in a down economy. But those challenges are not insurmountable, and I see a good opportunity going into next year.