Stations Hope Estrella's a 'Star'

The Spanish-language channel Estrella TV dramatically expands its reach in the coming weeks, as some 17 partner stations join its seven owned stations in airing Estrella programming. Spanish for “star,” Estrella's founders fittingly have sky-high hopes for the Liberman Broadcasting-owned network as it launches on the likes of Belo's KENS San Antonio and Hearst's KOAT Albuquerque. Producing 56 hours of original programming a week, co-founder and executive VP Lenard Liberman doesn't see the competition as Hispanic-focused digital channels like LATV and Mexicanal; he's taking the fight to big dogs Univision and Telemundo.

“With our O&Os, it just seemed logical to start our own network,” he says. “We're a compelling alternative to the novelas the others try to focus on.”

While a Hispanic network without the famously breathless telenovela soaps might seem like CBS without procedural crime dramas, Liberman says the genre has experienced a “significantly declining audience.” Instead Liberman studies what Hispanics are watching across the mainstream dial, such as a reality show on MTV, and develops programs based on that. The Estrella lineup features everything from the musical variety show Estudio 2 to comedies and dramas to a daily national newscast, Noticias 62.

Wide range of genres

That wide range appeals to partner stations. “It's just about every genre you can imagine,” says WPBF West Palm Beach VP/General Manager Caroline Taplett, who runs one of the four Hearst stations debuting Estrella next week.

Estrella's official launch date is Sept. 14. Privately held Liberman Broadcasting harks back to 1987, when the Liberman family bought a radio station in Orange County, Calif. Its first venture into television was the acquisition of KRCA Los Angeles. Building a group that includes KZJL Houston and KVPA Phoenix, the Libermans set out to create Spanish-language programming for the stations.

Lenard grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, his father, Jose, hailing from Mexico. Liberman Broadcasting also owns 22 radio stations, which play a large part in promoting the new TV network. Creating original programming is a pricey venture, particularly when hiring “top-tier talent,” as Liberman puts it. But he says quality original content, such as the celebrity competition show A Que No Puedes, is key to Estrella's strategy. “It's fun, comical type of programming,” he says.

Estrella's owned stations, such as KMPX Dallas and low-power WASA New York, are typically smaller outlets in major markets. Estrella's partner stations, including Sunbeam's WSVN Miami, Belo's KGW Portland, Sinclair's KVMY Las Vegas and Hearst's WESH Orlando, pack some heft. The affiliate model sees the stations keep 40% of the commercial inventory, according to Liberman, with Estrella retaining the other 60%. Stations will have the opportunity to put local touches on the programming lineup, such as a Spanish-language newscast produced by station talent to air on Estrella.

Estrella's national rep firm, called Spanish Media Rep Team and dating back to the mid-'90s, helps station staffs with national accounts, such as Tecate and Honda. Estrella COO Winter Horton says that's a key differentiator for the network. “We get a very good reception from agencies,” he says, “as they've been buying spots from us for lots of years.”

Hispanic marketers welcome a new entry to the increasingly colorful Spanish-language programming world. Lia Silkworth, VP and media director at multicultural agency Tapestry, says owning its content puts Estrella in a strong position, as does the fact that it's Nielsen-rated—not to mention its no-novela strategy. “There are a lot of Hispanics in this country, and the idea that they want to see more than novelas is probably a good idea,” she points out. “Our consensus is that giving people more viewing options than they currently have is good for the marketplace.”

Partner stations are excited about the launch as well. KVUE Austin will slot Estrella in place of a weather channel on its digital tier Sept. 14. President/General Manager Patti C. Smith says some viewers may be irked to come up empty while looking for weather info, but she feels the combination of strong weather content online and on mobile platforms, and a local population that is 23% Hispanic, has created a good foundation for Estrella on KVUE.2. “I feel this helps us use our spectrum in a more efficient way,” she says.

Over at WPBF, the receptionist answers the phone with a hearty, “Your fastest-growing news station and home of Estrella TV!” Taplett says the station's sales personnel answer the phone in a similar manner. “We brand everything we can with it,” she says. “It's part of who we are now.”

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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.