After 11 years of preparation, Lenard Liberman finally launched a national Spanish-language television network.

And he’s not overly concerned that the launch of his family’s Estrella TV came after two years of an advertising slump that has crippled the entire TV industry.

Liberman is executive vice-president of LBI Media Holdings, a Burbank company that owns 22 radio stations and seven TV stations, including KRCA (Channel 62), the flagship station for the new Estrella network, which officially debuted Sept. 14.

By combining all his television properties, he’s suddenly created the third-largest U.S.-based Hispanic network, behind Univision and Telemundo. His goal is to surpass them both in ratings and revenue.

The strategy is to offer counterprogamming: While the other networks offer mostly Spanish-language soaps in prime time, Estrella will focus on game shows, variety programs and talent competitions in the mold of “American Idol.”

Liberman said his dream of creating a national network goes back to 1998 when he first purchased KRCA. He originally wanted to buy stations to assemble his network, and in 2006 the company filed papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $350 million public offering. When the credit crunch on Wall Street forced him to shelve that plan, he decided to sign up affiliate stations – a much cheaper way to form a network – and go for it despite the downturn in advertising revenue.

“If it seems like rough timing, my answer is that if you look at the Hispanic TV network space, there are only two players, Univision and Telemundo,” Liberman explained. “It’s a great time to be the third player.”

In addition to the seven stations owned by LBI, Estrella includes 17 local affiliates owned by other media companies, Tribune Co., Belo Corp. and Hearst Television. The non-LBI stations will get 40 percent of the commercial time on Estrella channels to sell to local advertisers. The 24 stations reach 68 percent the U.S. Hispanic population.

Most of the new network’s programming is produced in Burbank at KRCA’s studios and was designed to compete with the two dominant networks, Univision Communications Inc.’s Univision and NBC-Universal Inc.’s Telemundo. Univision and Telemundo devote their prime-time slots to telenovelas, or Spanish-language soap operas that appeal mostly to women viewers.

“When we produce a show, it’s to compete at a specific time period,” Liberman said. “We create all our own shows and it’s very competitive programming.”

But even beyond its two main competitors, Estrella joins a crowded market. Univision is the giant of the industry, garnering nearly 80 percent of the Hispanic TV ad dollars. But besides Telemundo, there’s Telefutura, a youth-oriented network owned by Univision; Mega TV, owned by Miami-based Spanish Broadcasting System; Azteca America, a U.S. extension of Mexican network TV Azteca; L.A.-based music channel LATV; and cable channels Galavision, SiTV and Tr3s.

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