Univision Communications has long held a comfortable lead in the Spanish-language television market, with a virtual lock on some of the most popular programming out of Latin America.
But don't tell that to NBC, which is set to purchase Telemundo Communications Group Inc., owner of the nation's No. 2 Spanish-language network.
In fact, NBC News President Andrew Lack teased Univision Chairman Jerrold Perenchio at a recent press conference held to announce the NBC buy. "We're coming Jerry," Lack said. "Watch your back."
Not so fast. It would take a large investment to make Telemundo truly competitive with Los Angeles-based Univision, a move NBC may be unwilling to take, given that the Hispanic market, while growing more rapidly than others, is far from yielding the level of ad revenues enjoyed by English-language networks.
General Electric Co.-owned NBC already has agreed to pay what some analysts say is too much for Telemundo $2 billion in cash and stock and assumption of $700 million in debt.
"Only if the proper resources are put into quality programming will Telemundo make a major dent on Univision," said Federico Subervi, a University of Texas professor who has been studying Latino-oriented media in the United States.
"Univision's leadership position as the No. 1 Spanish-language television network in the U.S. is not currently at risk," wrote Gordon Hodge, an analyst with Thomas Weisel Partners, in a recent report.
Univision officials declined to comment.
When Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media took over Telemundo in 1998, they made the mistake of assuming they could simply take English-language programming and adapt it for Spanish-speaking viewers. The resulting Spanish-language take-offs of "Charlie's Angels," "One Day at a Time," and other English-language shows proved to be huge flops and cost Telemundo much of its primetime audience.
"You cannot necessarily take a franchise that's very popular for Anglo-oriented media and translate it into Spanish and have that translate into success," said David Miller, an analyst for Sutro & Co.
To be successful in Hispanic media, you have to take both language and culture into account, said Robert Orci, president of La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, an L.A. agency that specializes in Latino advertising. "If it was just language, all we would have to do is translate 'All In the Family,'" he said.
There already is talk of NBC introducing shows to Telemundo modeled on "Dateline NBC" and "Weakest Link," but officials have said the network won't be making any major programming changes for at least a year.
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