Little Azteca Grows Up

Nielsen status means it now plays with the big boys

Fledgling Hispanic network Azteca America is taking a major leap toward competing with Spanish-language giants Univision, TeleFutura, and NBC Universal-owned Telemundo for viewers and advertising dollars by subscribing to the Nielsen Hispanic Television Index.

The three-year-old network, owned by Mexican production company TV Azteca, expects to grow its penetration of Hispanic homes from roughly 66% to 70% by October. Although that is still short of Univision's 98% penetration, Telemundo's 92% and TeleFutura's 85%, reaching the 70% mark is the first of two steps Azteca must take to be considered a full-broadcast network by Nielsen.

The other step is completing negotiations with Nielsen on a more costly subscription.

Most of Azteca's continued growth comes from deals with DBS provider EchoStar, and Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Azteca also plans to add a broadcast station in El Paso, Texas, which will put it in all of the top 15 Hispanic markets and raise its number of affiliates to 40.

Forecasters estimate $1.2 billion in the Hispanic upfront, up about $100 million from a year ago. “In our first upfront, we closed 18 clients; in our second, we closed 62; and our goal this upfront is at least 140 clients,” says Carlos de la Garza, president of sales and marketing for Azteca America.

When Azteca becomes a full-service network, its ratings will be reported by Nielsen alongside those for the Big Three Spanish-language networks. That should dramatically increase its profile among advertising decision-makers. Perhaps of greater importance than added exposure, says de la Garza, is that Azteca will most likely end up on agencies' computer ad-buying optimization systems, which crunch a combination of Nielsen ratings and ad prices to generate the best schedules for buyers.

Azteca accounted for roughly 3% of Spanish-language TV's prime time audience in the just-concluded broadcast season. Next fall, its programs include Los Sanchez, described as a Hispanic version of TheBeverly Hillbillies, and a second season of its American Idol-type hit La Academia. This season will feature only U.S. Hispanic contestants.