HBO to Make Some Films Available in Spanish

San Diego County Arts Writer

With an eye on the 35 million Latinos in the United States, Home Box Office announced Thursday that it has begun a limited schedule of Spanish-language programming for cable subscribers in San Diego and in four other major markets.

Locally, both Cox Cable San Diego and Southwestern Cable TV, the county’s two largest cable services, have already aired seven HBO films with the expanded Spanish-English signals. The films included “Dragnet,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Smoking: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know,” a documentary.

Next month, the films “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Batteries Not Included” and “The Last Emperor” will be shown in Spanish.

At a press conference Thursday at the Chicano Federation offices downtown, HBO executives said the Spanish-language service is included at no extra charge to HBO subscribers and said it is aimed at serving an audience that doesn’t have access to major Hollywood pictures.


Preference of Latinos

“Some of the best entertainment today falls on deaf ears,” said Concepcion Lara, director of new business development for HBO. “Many (Latinos) . . . prefer to see movies in Spanish.”

HBO executives said they have considered offering Spanish-language programming for years, but only recently have the movie studios begun dubbing enough films to make it feasible. Still, HBO will be sending out Spanish signals on only nine movies a month, about 10% of all the movies it broadcasts monthly.

“We want to stress that these are lead titles,” said William Roedy, HBO marketing vice president. “Our goal is 100%.”

Although the service is free, HBO subscribers have to be stereo-equipped to get the Spanish audio signal. About half of San Diego County’s 381,000 Latinos are estimated to have cable service, but only those with stereo TVs, stereo VCRs, or stereo receivers wired to special FM lines can get the HBO programs in Spanish.

Increased Costs

Both Cox and Southwestern provide FM cable lines, in addition to the TV signals, and regular customers pay both installation and monthly fees for the service. A Cox spokesman said Cox is waiving indefinitely its $15 installation and $4.95 monthly fees for those HBO subscribers who want to receive the Spanish signal. A spokeswoman for Southwestern said it is waiving its $10 FM cable installation fee through February, but the $3.85 monthly service fee still applies.

There are also stereo “decoders” on the market that make standard TVs and VCRs capable of receiving the second audio signal. HBO officials said Thursday that the devices are available in consumer electronics stores for “a nominal charge.” There is a decoder product called Recoton that sells for about $67, but there are no Recoton dealers in San Diego. Radio Shack has a decoder available--the Realistic Model TV-200--for $219.95.

Despite the fact that many of HBO’s current Latino subscribers will have to upgrade their equipment to get the Spanish signals, the service won a ringing endorsement from Chicano Federation chairman Jess Haro.

“HBO and Cox recognized the importance of reaching out to the Hispanics of this community and this state,” Haro said.

San Diego County’s third-largest cable service, Dimension Cable, with 108,000 subscribers in coastal North County, east to Ramona, is not yet offering the Spanish language programming.

“We are evaluating the service right now,” said Susan Ritchie, a Dimension spokeswoman.

Besides San Diego, the Spanish-language service is being offered in New York, Miami, San Antonio and El Paso beginning this month. In May, HBO will begin offering the service through Cinemax and will expand nationwide, Roedy said.

Although Los Angeles has the largest Latino population of any city in the country, HBO chose not to initiate its Spanish-language programs there because the area is served by too many cable companies, Roedy said.