Laura Unshackled

Telemundo's wild talk show will make VOD history next month
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Telemundo's Laura, a confounding combination of syndication's combustive talk show Jerry Springer and the feel-good Oprah Winfrey, next month becomes the first Spanish-language television series to be released on video-on-demand and pay-per-view. A DVD release may follow later this year.

Laura features frank talk on women's issues, like Oprah does. And when host Laura Bozzo brings on guests, she is often witness to heated arguments that turn into wild, Springer-style fights.

Four uncensored versions of Laura are set to be released on VOD and PPV, with Laura Sin Censura (Laura Uncensored) coming out July 1. A second installment is set for September, while the remaining two will likely come out next year. (Springer also sold “uncensored' videos.)

The videos are produced by NBC Universal's Telemundo and shot in Peru, in the studio where Bozzo lives. There is quite a backstory there, too, but here the comparison is to Martha Stewart: Bozzo has been working while under house arrest since 2002 for accepting money from a suitor who prosecutors say swiped the loot from the Peruvian government. She is expected to be released next month.

Airing on Telemundo since shortly before NBC acquired the network in 2001, Laura this year averages about 1.1 million viewers in its 4 p.m. time slot, according to the network, with a 3.5 rating among Hispanic women 18-49. It is consistently Telemundo's highest-rated talk show.

Strong ratings partly explain Laura's release on VOD and PPV, says NBC Universal Cable VP of Marketing Lynette Pinto. But so do the antics of Laura's guests, who are as likely to be taking swings at each other and shouting expletives (bleeped by the network) as they are to be sobbing in their seats.

Laura is one of the top-rated shows on the Telemundo network and obviously lends itself to an uncensored version,” explains Pinto.

Telemundo is plunging into an untested area—a Spanish-language talk show on VOD and PPV—but Pinto is confident there is a market. After all, Universal's (before NBC bought it) Jerry Springer: Uncensored and Spanish-language movies and sports have done well in pay formats.

“There are movies in Spanish on-demand and on pay-per-view,” Pinto says. “Boxing has done pay-per-view and on-demand among Hispanics for many years. It's had great success.”

Who Will Buy It?

“Our viewer and the Laura viewer tend to be Spanish-language or bilingual viewers. Therefore, they don't have a lot of crossover with the NBC network,” Pinto says. “We'll have promotions on her show and on other shows, and we'll be supporting it offline as well. We'll also have a presence on Telemundo.com, with banner [ads] and e-mail blasts to people who have permissioned us to send information about our programs.”

Still, the Laura release on VOD and PPV does not guarantee that potential buyers will even have the opportunity to get the show's uncensored versions.

Hispanics are not as likely as the average viewer to have cable TV or the digital tiers needed to access VOD. Multichannel penetration, including cable TV and direct-broadcast satellite, is only 60% among Spanish-dominant households, according to a study released in May by Larchmont, N.Y.-based Horowitz Associates. That compares to 88% of non-Hispanic whites and 77% of African-American households. The Horowitz study was conducted among viewers living in urban areas.

And while digital penetration among Hispanic households is 50%, compared to 53% among all homes, it is only 43% in households where Spanish is the primary language. “While a show like Laura might have crossover appeal—and a lot of this programming does—obviously, its greatest appeal is the Spanish-dominant segment, which is the least likely to have these services,” says Adriana Waterston, Horowitz's director of marketing.

But Hispanics might be interested because of Bozzo's fame—and a good fight. After all, it worked for Springer.

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