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Spanish network Estrella launches but will its star shine or fade?

Jay Leno isn't the only one in Burbank taking a big gamble today. LBI Media Inc., a Burbank-based family-owned broadcaster, has picked today to launch a Hispanic television network.

Estrella TV will reach about 70% of the nation's Hispanic television households. LBI Media is the parent of Liberman Broadcasting, which owns several major-market television stations including KRCA Los Angeles. Several other broadcasters including Hearst Television, Belo Corp. and Sunbeam Television have signed on as affiliates.

LIBERMAN KRCA has already become something of a presence in the Los Angeles television market as the station has made some inroads on its bigger competitors Univision and Telemundo. Its prime-time ratings jumped 30% in the 18 to 49 demographic in July. 

Still, this is hardly the ideal time to launch a new channel, particularly a broadcast network. Besides a tough economy, Univision and NBC Universal's Telemundo are also fairly entrenched and have stronger television stations carrying their programming.

LBI has been feeling the pains that every broadcaster has as of late. For the second quarter of 2009, its revenues fell 16.4% to $28.4 million. Operating income was off 5.6% to $19.2 million.

None of this worries Lenard Liberman, executive vice president of LBI who co-founded the company with his father Jose. They bought their first radio station in 1988 and expanded into television in 1998 and now own seven television stations and 22 radio outlets. 

Early on, Liberman recognized that he couldn't compete financially with the much bigger Univision and Telemundo. So instead of trying to buy pricey telenovelas, Liberman went with cheaper programming he could produce himself. "We went from producing one show a week to 60 hours a week," he said. Now the company has a library of more than 5,000 hours. Most of their content is reality, talk and variety as well as some news programming. Many of the shows and formats developed for KCRA will transition to Estrella. 

In 2007, Liberman raised $200 million and began to think national. Because the company is already producing the bulk of its content, its programming costs won't rise dramatically with the expansion into a network. The company plans to program original material six days a week (Monday through Saturday) from mid-afternoon through prime time. It will keep 60% of the ad inventory from its affiliates. It's a fairly low-risk venture, but the challenge will be promoting Estrella nationwide especially because many of its affiliates are digital signals that are not established in the marketplace.

"I don't want to be cavalier and say we're going to beat Univision," Liberman says, but "I think the future is bright."

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Lenard Liberman. Credit: LBI Media

Comments () | Archives (1)

However visionary this profile seems to be, most people have no idea the kind of programming Mr. Liberman and his family have created for decades. Starting with Radio and later transitioning to TV, he's made a fortune by catering to the poorest and least educated Latinos.

He is focused in creating the raunchiest and most degrading programming in Spanish Speaking Television. The use of foul language and double entendre is rampant and it is rarely bleeped or sanctioned.

He has been cited and shut down but he manages to get back on the air and legally tie the goverment hands given the fact that there are not enough FCC regulators monitoring Spanish Programming. He went as far as to create a specific list of language permitted on his shows in order to skirt the complaints and get away with murder.

His flagship talk show "Jose Luis Sin Censura" (Jerry Springer without a Budget) features day laborers picked up at the Home Depot around the corner and offered $40 in exchange for pretending to be part of a love triangle and fight on stage gang members in front a blood thirsty audience.

Besides this very staged show, his comedy block consists of flying in from Mexico washed out stars and to let them run free, sometimes live. The old geezers do the best they can while shooting exhausting sessions filling a month of programming in just a couple of days.

They all use the worst language they can come up with. The raunchiest the better seems to be the premise, and double entendre a must.

Others shows include reality show "Alarma'" which airs shocking amateur video of animals with two heads or some poor devil getting electrocuted without any proper disclaimers. This images are carried into family homes through Estrella's airwaves exposing children and families with such graphic material Spike TV would salivate for.

If Mr Liberman believes that airing the most shocking, violent, and raunchiest programming will pair his new network with Univision or Telemundo, he is wrong. On the contrary, it will get tiring and the audience and will eventually tune out.

Latinos are a lot more resilient these days and have learned to appreciate quality programming.

Los Angeles


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