Burbank-based network Estrella TV may be the future face of Spanish language broadcasting in the United States.
That's what Lenard Liberman hopes, anyway.
The main creative force behind the almost 3-year-old, 59-affiliate broadcast group, Liberman believes his approach will eventually challenge such giant Hispanic networks as Univision and Televisa for supremacy.
"We try to understand what's important to the U.S. Hispanic market and produce television for that market, not import programming that's relevant to another market, which is what our competition does," explained the Stanford-educated Liberman, 50, who is also a member of the California Bar. "We do research to understand our brand, to continue to have a great perspective on the U.S.-based Hispanic."
So, rather than a prime-time schedule heavy with the Mexican telenovelas and soccer matches the older networks rely on, Estrella goes for a more reality-TV influenced collection of game, talk, news, talent, comedy and music shows. Almost all of the programs are produced at the two Burbank studio complexes owned by Estrella's parent company, Liberman Broadcasting, and some 500 part-time and full-time workers are employed at the headquarters.
And while the Estrella plan hasn't slain any giants yet, it is, by industry measures, succeeding.
"There has been growth in people watching Estrella and the prime time rating," noted Deana Myers, a senior analyst who follows Hispanic broadcast networks for media business data assessor SNL Kagan.
"And they're certainly getting more ad dollars now. It keeps going on an upward path," she added. "We estimate that their net ad revenues for this year will be $21.8 million; for last year, our estimate was $17.1 million. That's really good for a small, startup network only in its third year."
Recent Nielsen ratings put Estrella in the fourth place among Hispanic broadcast networks with an average viewership of around 200,000 -- well behind market leaders Univision, Telemundo and Telefutura, but ahead of some half-dozen others, including the well-financed Azteca.
The new MundoFox network, launched earlier this month, has not been tracked by Nielsen yet. But its very existence, backed by a giant global conglomerate, is due to the same forces that have made Estrella a good bet.
According to the 2010 Census, people of Hispanic ancestry are the fastest growing minority in the U.S., numbering 50.5 million, up from 46.9 million just two years earlier.
"Because of the census, there are more dollars going into the market from companies increasing their advertising budgets and, also, from new advertisers coming into the market," Myers said.
With recent decreases in immigration from Mexico, Liberman noted, the fastest growing part of the nation's Hispanic population is U.S.-born. He figures they relate more to what's popular on English language TV than the long-form soap operas their parents or grandparents loved.
So, as the guy who's responsible for practically all of Estrella's show concepts, Liberman tries to mold what he sees in other media to his target audience's sensibilities.
"We aim to entertain the audience," said Liberman, a Valley Village resident and self-proclaimed
voracious TV watcher.
"Oftentimes, what we see doing that could be seen on a general market English station, sometimes it could be seen on a station in Brazil or Japan or some other country," he said. "I just look for things that seem fun or exciting to me -- I do all the programming -- and if it looks like it's going to resonate with our audience, I'll find out how to adapt it.
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