Stronger signal to expand reach of Telemundo
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 29, 2005

Yvonne Wingett

News about Mexico every night and more steamy telenovelas during the day.

Phoenix's Spanish-language media market is hot and it just got hotter with a Federal Communications Commission decision that broadens Telemundo's reach into the living rooms of Latinos across the region, bringing more soccer games, news and soap operas to viewers who want them.

The move also puts the nation's second-largest Spanish-language network on a level playing field with powerhouse Univision and ramps up Phoenix's reputation as one of the country's most-desirable media and advertising markets.

Tremendous growth of the Latino population and its $15 billion annual spending power in the Valley is driving the rise of Spanish media in Phoenix, the ninth-largest Hispanic market in the country. That means the Valley, which has not been not been saturated with Spanish media, unlike Los Angeles or Miami, is maturing into a mecca for media companies, advertisers and marketers who want to reach this lucrative segment of the Hispanic market.

"This is a big consumer market with lots of money to spend and advertisers are catching on," said Earl de Berge, director of the Behavior Research Center, a local market research and polling firm that studies the Latino market. "Telemundo has had a tremendous handicap in the marketplace. This gives advertisers more choice and it gives viewers more choice."

Just over 500,000 Hispanics lived in Maricopa County a decade ago compared to today's 1 million, more than the counties for San Diego or San Antonio, longtime leaders of the Hispanic market. In the last 10 years Spanish-language media has followed population growth with a proliferation of new radio stations, newspapers and TV channels, culminating with Telemundo's new market reach with more outlets on the way.

Full-power ahead
Telemundo, KDRX Channel 48, will have access to 100 percent of the market compared to today's estimated 65 percent, executives said, and its new power will clear snowy TV sets in outlying rural communities north to Morristown, south to Casa Grande. Telemundo will also move to basic cable from the second-tier cable, which costs more. Today, Telemundo comes in clear on Cox cable, but it's difficult for many households to pick up with only a signal and antenna.

The anticipated April 2006 switch to a full-power signal gives Telemundo the chance to reach 317,000 Hispanic households, or at least 1 million Hispanics in the market, they said.

That's good news for viewers like Joana Castillo, whose set is fuzzy when she flips it to Telemundo.

The housewife has to "mess with my antennas so I can get a clearer reception" to watch her favorite talk show, Laura, and afternoons and evenings of telenovelas and movies.

"I watch it all the time," the 33-year-old Puerto Rican said. "But there's always a couple of bubbles here and there."

Telemundo is happy to give up those bubbles. The local affiliate, along with at least 30 Hispanic community leaders and marketing firms since 2003, lobbied the FCC to allow the station to go full power. They argued it would give viewers an alternative to dominant market leader Univision and advertisers more avenues to sell products. The FCC on Oct. 13 said it would allow Telemundo's full-power KPHZ Holbrook station (Channel 11) and its low-power KDRX Phoenix station (Channel 56) to swap with full-power KDTP Phoenix (Channel 39). FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement that the decision "should promote at least somewhat greater diversity and competition" in a top Hispanic market.

The move comes as two other Spanish-language TV stations announce plans to launch in Phoenix in early 2006, one with family-oriented programming, the other with sports, entertainment and news focused on northern Mexico.

Focus on Mexican culture
Today, at least seven Spanish-language TV stations are on broadcast or cable. At least 10 radio stations are available, including música romántica, Spanglish hip-hop and a public affairs station. With close to a million Latinos living in the Valley, more media outlets are expected to emerge over the next few years. Programming eventually will become as niched as English-language stations, they said, with 24-hour music, sports, movies, news and novelas.

Thousands of Spanish-speakers, popular soap operas and scarce competition has helped Univision's KTVW (Channel 33) dominate Phoenix's market. About 89 percent of Spanish-language TV viewers ages 18 to 49 tuned into the affiliate during prime time, according to the latest Nielsen sweeps numbers.

Telemundo executives believe they can cut into Univision's hold on the market by emphasizing Mexican culture in contrast to Univision's emphasis on Latin American culture, local programming and community-sponsored events.

"Phoenix was the last market in which (Univision) had exclusive viewership,"
said Ibra Morales, president of Telemundo. "Now they're going to have to share them with us."

Telemundo is headquartered in Miami and owned by NBC Universal. The network owns and operates 16 stations in major U.S. cities, has 36 broadcast affiliates and nearly 684 cable affiliates. News editors and engineers control Telemundo's local programming from its south Phoenix studios and news and sports anchors like Mariela Gomez de Ell and sports anchor Francisco Romero deliver nightly newscasts.

Advertisers, viewers win
Advertisers and network executives said the ruling is a major triumph for Telemundo viewers like Castillo, and for them. Home builders, auto dealers, and toothpaste, cereal and soda companies are among those companies that shelled out more than $3 billion last year on Hispanic advertising.

An additional full-power Spanish station likely gives them more leverage in negotiating commercial spot time, advertisers and media economics experts said, and drives down their commercial rates.

"It's a big coup for them," said Ray Arvizu of the largest of the Valley's Hispanic marketing firm, Arvizu Advertising & Promotions. "This will give them an opportunity to compete. They promise that they will deliver the Hispanic market. And people want to get on board."