The Galavision cable network today becomes the first Spanish-language TV programmer to offer a 24-hour news format as it switches from a pay-TV channel to a basic, advertising-supported operation.
Produced in Mexico City by the Televisa network, the weekday news service called ECO will feature 10 of Televisa's most famous and often controversial journalists--such as Jacobo Zabludovsky, his son Abraham, Ricardo Rocha and Lolita Ayala--who will daily anchor a pair of hourlong segments.
Each hour newscast will begin with 20 minutes of hard news, followed by news features reported in the anchor's area of expertise. In total, the show's anchors preside over 20 hours of ECO's daily programming. The 24-hour cycle is completed with four hours of news summaries and updates beginning at 1 a.m. PDT.
In addition to its anchors in Mexico City, ECO will field at least a half-dozen correspondents in key cities throughout the United States. Televisa correspondents--about 65 of them--will also provide special reports and breaking results from the Olympic Games this month in Seoul.
"Be it cable or broadcast, the ECO service is a milestone for Spanish-language television," said Starrett Berry, Galavision's vice president and general manager. "For the first time, U.S. Hispanics can be informed 24 hours a day."
On weekends, Galavision, which is owned by Televisa, will continue to air its former programming menu of Latin soap operas, movies and sports.
Berry said that Galavision's entertainment schedule was no longer as competitive as when the service debuted in 1979 because of the growth of the Spanish-language TV industry--particularly the U.S.-based Univision and Telemundo networks. Galavision officials estimated that the pay service had only had about 160,000 subscribers.
In addition, he said, the change was needed because Galavision was being priced out of the cable TV market, with operators in some cities charging viewers as much as $14 a month.
So far, a network spokeswoman said, about 80% of Galavision's 300 affiliates--about 40 of which are in Southern California--have converted the program service to basic cable, with the remaining 20% still offering it as a pay channel. The change has already increased the network's potential viewership to more than 1.7 million households, she said, and should exceed 2.5 million households when the transition to basic is completed in December.
Berry said that the transition has been delayed because some cable operators are looking for ways to replace revenues from Galavision subscribers with other forms of pay viewership.
The debut of the ECO news service from Televisa comes on the heels of controversy at home that erupted when the networks' top journalists were denounced for their coverage of Mexico's presidential elections in July.
Critics said the network grossly favored the ruling party's candidate in its reports and dropped portions of its own rebroadcast of the telenovela "Senda de Gloria" (Path of Glory) that were favorable to the late Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, father of opposition candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.
Televisa officials went on the air to deny the allegations of partisan news reporting, but declined last month to comment to a New York Times reporter who asked the network to explain its excision of the offending soap opera episodes.
Berry, however, doesn't expect any flak from Galavision's viewers when Jacobo Zabludovsky goes on the air for ECO.
"I'm not anticipating any complaints. I think ECO should be judged on its own merits," Berry said. "Zabludovsky has been on the air in the U.S. for years. I don't think there has ever been any criticism of (Televisa's) treatment of news events inside the U.S."
The San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Spanish Television News Network expects to become the nation's second all-Spanish, 24-hour cable news service when it goes on the air in November.