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TV Azteca Chairman Ricardo Salinas talks about Spanish-language TV

May 20, 2009 |  3:22 pm

Salinas Ricardo Salinas Pliego, a Mexican tycoon with a net worth bulging into the billions, is chairman and founder of Grupo Salinas, which owns TV Azteca, one of the largest producers of Spanish-language television programming in the world, and has ambitions of expanding its foothold in the U.S.

In 2005, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused the 53-year-old entrepreneur of fraud in the purchase and resale of discounted debt owned by one of his cellphone companies and making a $109-million profit for himself from the deal. He later settled and agreed to pay $7.5 million in penalties and compensation. 

He was at UCLA on Tuesday to discuss new microfinancing models to help low-income individuals start businesses. Afterward, he spoke with The Times about the future of his television holdings, including U.S. broadcaster Azteca America, a subsidiary of TV Azteca with a presence in more than 65 broadcast markets. Here is a sampling from the interview. 

Any plans to implement bilingual programming on Azteca America?

No. We think that Spanish is our playground. You could easily have bilingual programming. But to produce in English for a Spanish audience, I don’t think that has a lot of future. I think it’s too much of a niche right now.

Any worry that you’re losing second- and third-generation audience by not featuring bilingual programs?

I think there’s been all kinds of effort to do this second- and third-generation programming and nobody’s been successful, so we've got to be careful with that.

Would you consider doing any production in the U.S.?

I don’t think so. No. The production side requires a lot of support talent. That support talent is in Mexico. I mean, the actual production you can do it anywhere, but it’s like Hollywood, there’s a reason why everybody’s here. And that’s also the reason everybody’s in Mexico City doing those novellas.

What has the digital transition process been like in Mexico?

In Mexico, the digital transition is way behind the Americans. I think it’s supposed to be over in 2020 or 2021. We just recently started to offer a new service called Hi TV; the idea is to have multi-channel over-the-air free television. People can access this television by buying a small box and then just connecting it to their sets and they’ll have all these new channels that are available. Of course, it has created a lot of controversy. Some of our competitors are very upset about it because they don’t want to upset the paid television monopoly. In Mexico, paid television is a monopoly. This is a threat to them, and they are very upset and they’re saying we’re violating the law and we’re pirates and that we’re doing something illegal. That’s the cost of promoting digitalization.

What about online programming? Any plans to feature your programs on sites like Hulu?

We’re actually working on our own version. As a matter of fact, our Internet site works very well. You can basically program what you want to view. But, of course, with more bandwidth down the road, I think people will be able to connect it to their TVs and just go straight for the content. So that will require, probably, another subscription model or something to pay for the content, which, of course, no one on the Internet likes to talk about. There’s a limit to what you can do with advertising.

Where would you like to see the television stations (Azteca America and TV Azteca) 10 years from now?

Down the road, I see that our production capabilities will grow enormously and we’ll be producing not only for broadcast, but for digital, the Internet and for the telecom market. The connectivity that we’ll have in the future, highly mobile bandwidth, is going to make content more important than ever. We are in absolutely the best position to produce content.… Maybe the delivery will not be over the air: maybe it’s cable, maybe it’s the internet, maybe it’s the telephone … but content will always be there. As long as we’re producing things that make you dream and things that make you yearn of a better life -- that remind you of your family, your friends -- I think that’s very powerful. That’s what entertainment’s all about.

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo: Ricardo Salinas. Credit: Axel Koester / For The Times