The Hispanic population explosion is spawning the creation of a number of new cable networks aimed at Latinos. First up, Univision, the dominant Spanish-language broadcast network, on Wednesday will add Univision tlNovelas, the first channel to feature wall-to-wall daily telenovelas, essentially soap operas that run for four to six months.
- Sports network Univision Deportes will premiere in April, featuring plenty of soccer action and its own version of SportsCenter, to rival the existing ESPN Deportes. (Both will air initially on Dish Network.)
- Univision also plans a news network for later this year and is in talks with ABC about a separate joint-venture channel aimed at English-speaking Hispanics.
- News Corp. has announced plans for Spanish-language Mundo Fox this fall.
- And Comcast announced plans Tuesday to carry four minority-backed cable networks, including El Rey, an entertainment channel also aimed at English-speaking Latinos, headed by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids) and due by early 2014.
They will join existing bilingual networks such as Comcast's mun2, an offshoot of Telemundo, and MTV's tr3s.
The flurry of activity is explained by Census data. The 50.5 million Hispanics counted in 2010 mark a 43% jump from 2000, accounting for more than half of all population growth. The group represents 16.3% of the total population but 23% of children and teenagers, many of whom speak English as a first language.
"It hit me at a personal level," says Rodriguez, who plans to create his own projects at his Texas studio. "I pushed to feature Latinos on the screen in my movies; (now) I want to bring in filmmakers and artists to find an opportunity to create this space" for reality, scripted and animation projects.
Existing networks "are doing a fantastic job focusing on the first generation," says John Fogelman, a former talent agent who will own El Rey with Rodriguez. "We thought, what if we spent time focusing on the (next) generation?" -- an "untapped market."
A mainstay of Spanish television, and often its highest-rated fare, is the novela, melodramatic nightly series that run year-round, like daytime soaps, for a finite period. Though thought of as a single genre, they can be historical, teenage-focused, mysterious or comedic, like Ugly Betty, adapted by ABC as a weekly series.
But "there's always a romantic story, and they are always aspirational," says Carlos Sotomayor, executive producer for Univision Productions, whose current El Talisman averages nearly 4 million viewers.
"They speak to Hispanic values, family, faith, love and betrayal," says Jessica Rodriguez, Univision's senior VP for cable networks. "It's our version of Romeo and Juliet and Gone With the Wind."
And viewers are committed: Unlike most shows in the DVR age, more than 90% of novelas are watched as they air, and "novela stars are our version of Hollywood stars," Rodgriguez says. "They grace the covers of magazines in Spanish."
The novela channel will mostly air "classic" series from the 1980s and 1990s produced by Mexico's Televisa and Venezuela's Venevision. To appeal to younger viewers, Telemundo and Univision air their current novelas with closed-captioning in English.
Other networks are getting in the game. Fox-owned MyNetwork TV, created in 2006 to air English-language novelas, was a failure. But Nick at Nite is adapting the 1990 Mexican series Reach for a Star as an 80-epsiode daily series, due this year. It's about a teenage girl embraced professionally and romantically by her singing idol.
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