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Variety is Key to Woo Women Viewers

8/18/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Spanish-language broadcast networks dominate programming for Hispanic women in terms of ratings, reach and resources, though some cable networks are making a go of targeting Latina viewers. And women’s programming has become much more varied than the traditional popular fare such as cooking shows and telenovelas.

“Women are interested in much more than just cooking,” said Genoveva Martínez, producer of Azteca America’s Lo Que Callamos las Mujeres (What We Women Keep to Ourselves). Mujeres, which has been on the air for six years, features dramatizations of real-life challenges commonly faced by women. Martínez oversees a production staff of 150 people, including 20 writers, who produce six hours of original programming each week. The show is produced in Mexico and airs in the U.S., as well as in countries such as Malaysia and Russia.

“I believe there are universal themes,” said Martínez, referring to what programming draws women viewers. Martinez said that she produces a good number of programs about immigration, for instance, which is an important issue for women in Mexico and the United States.

Telemundo’s Decisiones (Decisions) is cut from the same thematic cloth as Lo Que Callamos las Mujeres. But Telemundo programming executive Marco Santana said his network’s show is different because “it is produced in the U.S. specifically for the U.S. Hispanic market” as opposed to being made in Mexico with a local audience in mind.

Univision also produces a fair amount of programming in the U.S. for women in the form of talk shows and entertainment programs. The network’s primetime lineup consists exclusively of Mexican telenovelas, which are considered women-targeted fare though they attract a significant minority of men and children.

On the cable side, there are just a few Spanish-language networks focused on Latinas, including Discovery Networks’ Viajar y Vivir (Travel and Living) and the Buenos Aires, Argentina-based women’s network Utilísima.

“Why there aren’t more [Hispanic women’s cable networks] available, I don’t know,” said Burke Berendes, a partner in Condista, which represents some 20 Latin American and Spanish networks in the U.S. Hispanic market including Utilísima.

Aside from their target audience, the networks share a broad mix of diverse programming.

“For us, it was very telling when the research showed Hispanic women want something other than telenovelas and talk shows,” said Luis Silberwasser, senior vice president and general manager of Discovery Networks U.S. Hispanic Group. “We provide Hispanic women with something different.”

Similarly, Utilísima offers a range of programs including cooking and fashion. “We take those elements that characterize women and say these are valid for any woman in the market,” CEO and founder Ernesto Sandler said. Utilísima’s shows run the gamut from the mainstream (such as one featuring wedding planners) to very niche topics (such as a program dedicated to Goth fashion, which Sandler said has generated heavy viewer response).

“There is a move from a more traditional female role into a much more multifaceted role,” said University of Colorado marketing professor Lisa Peñaloza who also sees a shift in how Latinas are marketed to and portrayed in the media.

But in at least one respect, Hispanic women’s programming remains very traditional — nearly all of it is in Spanish. The specific interests of U.S.-born Hispanic women are not the focus of attention of the Spanish-language broadcast and cable networks or English-language women’s networks.

Telemundo morning show anchor and Hispanic television veteran María Antonieta Collins spoke eloquently of her responsibility to her audience of Latina baby boomers. When asked how she goes about attracting a younger and U.S.-born Hispanic audience she said, “That is the toughest part because these women speak English and watch television in English.”

Flavio Morales vice president of programming at cable network mun2, which is owned by Telemundo and targets a young Hispanic audience, said U.S.-born Latinas simply did not see themselves reflected in English- or Spanish-language women’s programming. “We look at the landscape and there is nothing,” said Morales. Mun2 hopes to fill the gap of programming created for and about young Latinas with an upcoming reality show tentatively called The Chicas Project, scheduled for early next year.

In Spanish or English, broadcast or cable, there is also a perception among some television critics that much Hispanic women’s programming is of inferior quality. Paulina Magdaleno, entertainment editor of Al Día, a Spanish-language newspaper owned by the Dallas Morning News, described Hispanic women’s programming, in general, as a “sea of the same”

“One thing this marketplace has missed is the concept of quality television,” said Silberwasser in a gentle jab at competitors.

Regardless of the perceptions of quality from some television critics and media executive, large numbers of Hispanic women 18 and older are watching celebrity gossip programs, morning shows, talk shows and telenovelas on Spanish-language broadcast networks. Spanish-language cable networks for women have the potential to identify demand for niche or high-quality content but face an uphill battle for carriage.

“It is not clear there is a market” said Adriana Waterston vice president of marketing and business development at Horowitz & Associates. “I think the market for [Latina women’s cable] programming has yet to be established.”

September