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Station to Station

Azteca America Finds Its Niche

As Univision and Telemundo battle for the lion's share of the Hispanic audience, upstart Azteca America is trying to lure viewers with unique Mexican fare and local programming.

But in a jam-packed field—Univision launched a second network, Telefutura, in part to ward off Telemundo—Azteca's affiliates are facing a tough road.

“We're trying to break the Univision habit and get people to sample Azteca America,” says Bob Hyland, president of television for Una Vez Mas (UVM), which owns 11 Azteca America affiliates.

The country's fourth-largest Spanish-language broadcaster, four-year-old Azteca America is carried in 42 markets, mostly on low-power TV stations and widely distributed basic-cable tiers. Azteca America is pitching itself to Mexican-Americans already familiar with its parent network, TV Azteca from back home. The U.S. Hispanic population is 65% Mexican, but in major Hispanic markets, it's as much as 90%.

“Mexicans living in the U.S. are so familiar with our brand. It is everywhere you turn in Mexico, and that is our greatest strength,” says Natalie Quaratino, director of operations for Azteca America Colorado and San Diego.

Unlike most American broadcast networks, whose parent companies own clusters of affiliated stations, Azteca America stations are owned by U.S.-based companies. Under current ownership rules, TV Azteca cannot own stations.

UVM is the largest affiliate group; besides its 11 stations, it has 12 more slated to launch in the next year. Pappas Telecasting owns six, and McGraw-Hill, which owns four ABC stations, operates two Colorado affiliates (which it calls Azteca America Colorado), and will take control of the San Diego outlet in January.

While Azteca is growing, finding its niche is tricky. UVM is buying radio spots on Spanish-language stations and plastering its logo on billboards. McGraw-Hill promotes Azteca America Colorado on its ABC station KMGH Denver.

This month, Azteca stations got their moment on the big stage. Azteca's wildly popular music competition, La Academia, the Mexican version of American Idol that airs in both Mexico and the U.S., is featuring U.S.-born Hispanic contestants for the first time. Azteca America stations plan to aggressively promote their novelas and weekend sports on the show. Azteca America Colorado even produced a special on the overwhelming response to local auditions.

Such localized programming, station managers say, is critical for winning viewers. UVM, for one, plans to launch local news on at least eight of its stations next year.

“It is important for us to reach into the communities and let viewers know they can come to us for entertainment and information,” says Hyland.

Its stations will partner with English-language broadcasters to produce Spanish newscasts in exchange for a cut of the ad revenue. In Denver, McGraw-Hill plans to hire Spanish-speaking anchors and reporters and produce the news at sister station KMGH's studios. In San Diego, where it owns ABC outlet KGTV, Spanish-speaking talent will contribute to Azteca America newscasts.


Local newscasts should help.

Azteca stations attract advertising. Advertisers spent about $3 billion on Hispanic media last year, but Univision and Telemundo receive the bulk of TV spending.

One obstacle for Azteca has been a lack of Nielsen ratings. In June, the network began subscribing to the ratings, and stations are slowly signing on to Nielsen's local service. Azteca stations recently banded together and hired sales firm Interep to help with national spots.

At the local level, Azteca America stations are trying to position themselves as a fresh alternative for marketers. UVM's stations, for example, target mom-and-pop businesses, such as auto-body shops and insurance companies.

Says Hyland, “Many of these people used to advertise on Uni­vision, but the rates got too high, and now they've come to us.”

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