New network Star set to launch


Executives of LBI Media are at NATPE this week in Las Vegas talking with potential affiliates for the national launch of Estrella TV – “Star TV” in Spanish. And while the US economy is struggling, they see 2009 as a year of opportunity for the new competitor in Spanish television.

Thanks to some turmoil on Capitol Hill, Estrella TV does not yet have a firm date for its national launch. COO Winter Horton told RBR/TVBR the network is focusing on having full-power affiliates, with Estrella being broadcast on a digital multicast channel. So, the launch will be set to coincide with the national DTV transition.

Becoming a network won’t be a major transition, though. LBI Media is already running the programming on its six O&O stations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The company recently highlighted its November sweep ratings, where its LA flagship was the market’s #2 Spanish station, behind only Univision.

“We’ve been working very hard on the programming for the last ten years that we’ve been in the production business.  I think we decided a while ago that content was going to be much more important than distribution. We really focused on the content and started creating programming here in the United States that is targeted towards a US Hispanic that resonates with them easily, using famous actors from Mexico, and so far it’s worked.  Our ratings are spectacular and our LA, Houston and Dallas stations were number two in all adult demos, so it’s pretty exciting,” said Horton.

With its own production campus in Burbank, featuring five sound stages, LBI is producing about 56 hours of original programming weekly for Estrella TV.

“We do a little bit of everything.  We have talk shows, we have variety shows, music shows, drama, game shows – a little bit of everything.  The only thing that you’re not going to see is a novella, because that is what we’re programming against and we feel that the novela audience was kind of getting older and more female every year. That’s kind of evidenced by Univision’s drop in ratings. We’re counter programming that and we’re having great success doing it,” Horton said. “We’re going right after Univision. Adults 18-49 is our demo,” he noted.

RBR/TVBR asked about the primetime lineup.

“We have a musical variety show called “Estudio Dos”.  We have a fantastic kind of entertainment/games show called “A Que No Puedes”.  We have a scripted drama called “Secretos.”  We have kind of a sketch comedy show, kind of like The Carol Burnett Show staring La Chupetos, she’s one of the biggest comedians from Mexico, and that’s called “Los Chuper Amigo,” Horton said of the primetime programming. Estrella TV also has a daily national newscast. Some of the programming produced by LBI Media in Burbank has already been syndicated successfully to other countries, such as Panama, Honduras, El Salvador and Puerto Rico. 

LBI Media has its own national sales operation which has been repping its own stations for 17 years, so it will be handing network sales in-house and will also be available to rep affiliates.

By targeting major full-power stations as digital affiliates, Estrella TV is expecting to cut deals with established English-language groups. Horton said the strategy is to give them “a chance to monetize their digital spectrum without cannibalizing their own English audiences.”

And while affiliate deals are being sought, LBI Media is also in the market to acquire more O&O stations. So, the downturn of 2009 isn’t all bad. “I think on the acquisition front it’s fantastic. We’re seeing some great deals right now on properties that we haven’t seen pricing like this in a long time. We’re still doing well and I think the economy is going to bounce back and certainly Hispanic advertising is somewhat insulated,” Horton said. His company is not only looking to buy more TV stations, but more radio stations as well, since LBI Media believes strongly in cross-promotion.

RBR/TVBR observation:
It may seem brash to declare that you are targeting the #1 US Hispanic TV network, Univision, rather than one of the runners-up, but Liberman Broadcasting/LBI Media has spent a decade gearing up for this launch and have already proven at their O&O stations that their US-produced programs resonate with American Hispanics. It will be interesting to see whether the upstart forces Univision and Telemundo to produce more of their programming here in the US.