By Leah Hochbaum
While the introduction of English-language telenovelas on the new MyNetworkTV hasn’t exactly been a resounding success in the U.S., the soapy series continue to dominate the ratings among Spanish-speaking viewers around the world. But Latin American TV companies aren’t resting on their laurels. With new technologies being discovered each day and overlooked audiences finally being recognized, things are getting muy caliente.
“Telenovelas are a way of life,” said Jose Escalante, vice president and general manager of Miami, Florida-based RCTV International. “They are part of our Latin culture.” But despite the fact that many novela watchers have been tuning in since birth, RCTV is looking for new avenues to reach those people who simply cannot make it a priority to watch the shows on traditional televisions each day. The company is in the process of making telenovela Betrayed available for mobile. “Digital TV, satellite and mobile TV are what the future holds,” said Escalante.
Escalante also believes that the popularity of telenovela format Betty La Fea, which spawned ABC hit Ugly Betty this season in the U.S., will mean great things for Latins. “More companies [around the world] will want a piece of the pie,” said Escalante. “They are beginning to realize that telenovelas are a profitable business. We’ve already sold the format for My Sweet Fat Valentina and Juana’s Miracle to India, and are currently negotiating other telenovela formats, as well.”
Claudia Silva, director of marketing for Miami-based Televisa, agrees with Escalante that it’s time for Latin TV companies to look into the future. “Televisa has always tried to adopt new technologies as early as we can.” She points to the fact that the company was the first to introduce a high definition novela, Ruby, in 2002. “Now, 70 percent of our programming is in HD,” she said. “And our objective for this year is to produce even more novelas in HD.”
While most TV companies targeting Latinos know that they have a built-in audience for novelas, others choose to focus upon viewers who have long been ignored. California-based Laguna Productions is currently at work on two new Latin films: Mexican American, the tale of a former boxer who must rescue his daughter from kidnappers, and El Chicano, about a man forced to take the law into his own hands after his wife is murdered, both of which target second-generation Latinos in the U.S. who speak English and have a different set of values than their telenovela-loving (and some might say, more emotional) forebears.
“It is a market that is untapped,” said Laguna’s president, Elart Coello. “But we know the market. We understand it. For once, the industry as a whole is paying increasingly more attention to the Latino market — the Latin DVD market has been exploding with a growth rate of 35 to 45 percent — and this is just the beginning!”
And Laguna isn’t the only company noticing that lately all things Latin turn to gold. Discovery en Español, a channel that offers a look at the world from a Hispanic perspective, recently achieved the highest primetime ratings growth of any publicly reported Hispanic broadcaster or pay-TV network in the U.S. The channel increased 78 percent among men 18-49, 50 percent among adults 18-49, and 54 percent among total households.
Luis Silberwasser, senior vice president and general manager, Discovery Networks U.S. Hispanic Group, credits this growth to “our strategy of providing Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. with culturally relevant and thought-provoking programming.”
But telenovelas are still the bread and butter of any Latino’s TV diet. Perhaps RCTV’s Escalante summed it up best: “The telenovela genre will continue to reign in the Latin television scene for a long time to come.”