broadcast television networks have been slow to capitalize on the multicasting
(digital television) opportunities provided by their ownership of full-power
stations. I know of no TeleFutura, Telemundo or Univision owned-and-operated
station that is currently airing a digital signal in addition to their analog
channel. (Please correct me if you know otherwise.) This will change by
February, 2009 when the digitalization of the broadcast spectrum, by law, must
take effect. Meanwhile, though, Univision and Telemundo seem to be focusing
their energies elsewhere
Not to say there hasn't likely been internal discussions about what to put on those digital channels but Univision and Telemundo have yet to signal their future multicasting plans, much less announced anything. In SEC filings and in interviews, Univision executives and investors have made clear their intention to charge big bucks for retransmission fees. No mention anywhere, though, of multicasting. Last year Telemundo executive Steve Mandala told me in an interview for a Multichannel News article that a multicasting strategy was being formulated. Nothing yet, though. Telemundo seems much more focused on its broadcast, cable, interactive and even wireless efforts than multicast.
The absence of a current multicasting effort by Telemundo and Univision is understandable but short-sighted. Both networks could cheaply and quickly opt to launch a 24/7 telenovela digital channel. They could run a Spanish-language kids network such as Discovery Kids en Español or Sorpresa! on a barter basis and bring in some additional revenue. And help build a future audience (for more about Spanish-language children´s programming see here or here to learn about Univision´s fine for violations of the Children´s Television Act). Launching a dedicated sports and/or news digital channel is also an option but would require a significant investment without an immediate payout.
And there is no immediate payout because no one is yet sure about the economics of Latino multicasting. No one knows how many Hispanics already own digital television sets. Telemundo and Univision are busy trying to interest advertisers in reaching large and measurable numbers of Latino viewers. There are set rate cards and lots of money to be made selling thirty second spots and product placement on analog but what the heck do you charge an advertiser for a commercial on a multicast channel. Admittedly, the low-hanging fruit consists of closing the gap between what advertisers spend on English-language television and what they spend on Spanish-language. But, Telemundo and Univision expend plenty of effort selling interactive advertising for what remains a modest revenue stream.
Besides February, 2009 is not that far off, which explains why other Hispanic networks are pushing into multicast. The pioneer was Trinity Broadcasting Network's TBN en Español service. TBN was aggressive from the get-go about making all their networks available as multicast channels. They wanted to increase distribution and have employed individual church-based marketing to win new viewers for the Spanish-language service. Granted, TBN is viewer-supported and doesn´t have to worry about selling ads on multicast. Still, theirs was an impressive and early effort.
Next in line came Latino youth network LATV, which inked a multicast carriage deal with the Post-Newsweek Station Group a few months ago. The deal was, in part, the result of frustration after years of not securing wider cable and satellite distribution. Dealing with television station groups and even individual station owners is far quicker and less laborious than dealing with MSOs as a group and with their individual systems. And it also helps when the owner of the multicast network also happens to head a television station group, which is the case with LATV majority shareholder Walter Ulloa who is also the Entravision CEO and board chairman. Entravision just announced it will carry LATV as a multicast network in ten markets.
The last of the Hispanic multicast networks for now is V-me TV, which is a Spanish-language digital broadcaster majority-owned by a group of private investors with a minority investment by the Educational Broadcasting Corp. that is the licensee for New York City PBS affiliate WNET. V-me TV serves as a multicast channel for PBS stations throughout the U.S. (its imminent launch prompted some controversy in Maryland). Wherever a PBS affiliate decides to carry V-me TV as a multicast channel, the network then becomes automatically available on cable thanks to a standing arrangement with the NCTA.
And that´s all, no one else in the Hispanic television market has really done much with multicasting.
Univision and the other Spanish-language broadcast networks are rightly organizing citizenship and voter education campaigns. As a matter of self-interest, they might want to consider a campaign to educate viewers about the upcoming switch to digital television. For that matter, the Consumer Electronics Association might want to translate their recycling Web site (see here for a good LAT article on the topic).
Unlike Mexico where the digital switch won´t take place until 2023, in the States the clock is ticking.