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Fox launching Spanish-language network

MundoFox, which is a joint venture with Colombia's powerful RCN Television Group, will directly challenge entrenched rivals Telemundo and Univision with 'teleseries,' sports and news.

August 12, 2012|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times
  • Jaime Camil and Ludwika Paleta star as successful co-anchors pretending to be lovers in MundoFox's "Los Exitosos Perez."
Jaime Camil and Ludwika Paleta star as successful co-anchors pretending… (MundoFox )

A quarter century ago, Fox figured there was room for more than just three big TV networks. It created Fox Broadcasting, which would redefine television with shows such as "Married ... with Children,""The Simpsons,""24" and"American Idol."

Now, Fox is hoping to stage an encore.

Rupert Murdoch's company on Monday unveiled MundoFox, a new Spanish-language broadcast network. A joint venture with Colombian powerhouse RCN Television Group, the network will challenge the Spanish-language media dominance of entrenched rivals Univision Communications and Telemundo.

"It is a fascinating move, and it has the potential to really make an impact," said Diana Bald, a senior vice president at advertising firm ID Media.

Fox and RCN have chipped in an estimated $100 million to hire staff, develop programming and launch the service. The network and its national news team will be based in Los Angeles, unlike Univision and Telemundo, which both operate from Miami.

Fox is banking on the L.A. location to give MundoFox a competitive edge by absorbing the region's Mexican American culture. Two-thirds of Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican heritage.

"The key for them is to become a disruptive force rather than be a me-too player," Bald said.

That's precisely the plan, said Hernan Lopez, chief executive of the Fox International Channels division.

"The market has been too steady for too long," Lopez said. "The average Spanish-language channel looks very similar to the way it looked 15 to 20 years ago. Those networks have a proven formula, and it works for them. But we think break-through TV beats formula TV."

"Formula TV" is a dig at industry titan Univision, which instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year developing unproven shows, as do English language giants ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, airs telenovelas produced by Grupo Televisa of Mexico that have performed well during their initial runs in Mexico.

The five-night-a-week programs also score huge ratings in the U.S. This summer, Univision's blockbuster telenovela "La que no podía amar" has been drawing larger audiences than most shows on the major networks.

Instead of telenovelas, whose plots revolve around the heartaches and ambitions of a female protagonist, MundoFox is positioning its dramas as "teleseries" that also run five nights a week. Lopez described the more contemporary programs as action adventures with romantic backdrops, designed to appeal to men and women alike.

MundoFox plans to run in its 9 p.m. weeknight slot RCN's hugely successful "El Capo," based on the story of fictional drug lord Pedro Pablo Jaramillo. The network also plans to reprise the original "Yo soy Betty, la fea," another RCN production, which became a global phenomenon and inspired the successful ABC show "Ugly Betty."

Another teleseries, "Kdabra," features elements of magic and the supernatural. Christopher Von Uckermann plays a 17-year-old teenager who has escaped from a dark community, triggering unexpected events. (The show previously ran on Univision's Telefutura network.)

"RCN has a history of success in the U.S.; they have produced some great hits," said Bald, the advertising executive. MundoFox "might be onto something if they can attract an edgier crowd and the second and third generation. Traditional telenovelas tend to appeal an older generation of Hispanics."

Univision counters that its telenovelas perform well among the prized demographic of 18- to 34-year-old viewers. Indeed, the median age of the Latino population is younger than that of the general population, making Latinos and the networks that target them magnets for advertisers.

MundoFox is planning game shows, including "Minuto para ganar," hosted by Marco Antonio Regil. Late night will feature Seth McFarlane's"American Dad," dubbed in Spanish. For children, it will offer "Nat Geo Kids," a program originally produced by National Geographic.

MundoFox's 6 p.m. national newscast will be anchored from Los Angeles by the Peabody Award-winning journalist Rolando Nichols. (The division will be separate from the company's New York-based Fox News Channel). MundoFox says its newscast will be the only one in Spanish that will air live on both the East and West coasts. RCN will provide international newscasts.

Sports will also be a crucial component. Although Univision and Telemundo have the rights for key soccer leagues, MundoFox is hoping it can carry some punch with UFC's mixed martial arts fighting.

"UFC championships have been extremely popular with Hispanics, and I really believe that's been a missed opportunity for Univision and Telemundo," Bald said.

In Los Angeles, the network will air on KWHY-TV Channel 22, a station previously owned by NBCUniversal. (The Federal Communications Commission forced NBC to divest KWHY because NBC already owned two stations in the market, KNBC-TV Channel 4 and Telemundo station KVEA-TV Channel 52.)

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