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Mexico's No. 2 Network in Deal With Columbia

Programming: Television Azteca also signs pact with Pearson Television to create dramatic series and movies.

October 19, 2000|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The battle for high-quality Spanish-language programming for the U.S. Latino market heated up Wednesday after Mexico's No. 2 network announced a deal with Columbia Pictures and Pearson Television to create telenovelas, dramatic series and movies for the big screen.

Television Azteca--which last month announced its push into the U.S. market with Los Angeles-based Azteca America--disclosed the partnerships late Tuesday in Mexico City.

The announcement came just as Miami-based Telemundo Network--the second-largest Spanish-language television network in the U.S.--revealed its partnership with Mexican producer Argos Comunicacion, which has previously produced for Azteca.

Azteca America is expected to compete with Telemundo in the U.S. for the tens of millions of Spanish-language viewers here. In pairing with Argos, it snatched away that company's edgy productions from its new competitor.

Azteca officials downplayed the Argos loss in interviews Tuesday, then turned around and unveiled extensive plans of their own for new content designed to appeal largely to U.S. audiences.

According to TV Azteca, the network will develop telenovelas and movies with Columbia Pictures in Mexico, and at least one telenovela and other series with Pearson Television from Miami.

The network also is creating two companies to broaden its reach into film and theater: Azteca Cine will partner with Columbia Mexico to produce 10 movies for the big screen in the next five years. Azteca would retain television rights to those films for the U.S. and Mexico.

Another entity, Azteca Teatro, will partner with Mexico's Carlos Catano to produce 15 theatrical works in the next five years.

Azteca hopes to bring those Spanish-language theater productions to Miami, New York and Los Angeles, said TV Azteca Chief Financial Officer Luis Echarte.

The plans to boost and improve content grew largely out of the network's decision to push into the U.S. with Azteca America, Echarte said.

"It's a huge announcement," he said. "The idea is to give Azteca America more depth and the ability to use resources for their own production if they have needs that are separate from ours here in Mexico.

"For our artists, it's very exciting that we are going to have exposure in the United States, and we want to give them different vehicles--movies, more telenovela production and the possibility of doing theater," he added.

Echarte did not disclose the terms of the five-year deals, which he said have not yet been finalized but are "imminent."

The alliances also underscore the bizarre nature of competition in an age of mega-corporations: They would pit Telemundo, owned by Sony Corp. and AT&T Corp.'s Liberty Media Group, against Azteca America programming to be created by Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures.

Neither Columbia Pictures nor Pearson Television could be reached for comment Wednesday.

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