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Azteca America on Air to Tap L.A.'s Latino Market

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Azteca America began broadcasting on its newly built Los Angeles station--KAZA-TV Channel 54--last weekend, limping into the burgeoning Spanish-language network market.

Though the Los Angeles station can reach nearly one-fifth of the nation’s Latino households, the new broadcast outlet represents a scaled-down version of Azteca’s ambitious plans. In September, the company said it would launch a 10-station network by early this summer that could compete with Spanish-language giants Univision Communications Inc. and Telemundo.

“We’re very happy to finally be on the air; we’ve had a lot of roadblocks to overcome,” said Mike Angelos, spokesman for Pappas Telecasting Cos., the Visalia, Calif., broadcasting company that owns 80% of the Azteca America network.

“In the coming months and years, we hope to fill out our distribution network and compete successfully with the other players in this space,” Angelos said.

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The remaining 20% of the network is owned by Television Azteca, Mexico’s No. 2 broadcaster, which operates two nationwide networks in Mexico and more than 250 stations.

TV Azteca is supplying all of KAZA’s programming. The station in Los Angeles--the network’s sole station--has its studios in Glendale and transmission facilities atop Mt. Wilson in the Angeles National Forest.

KAZA will broadcast novellas in addition to other top-rated TV Azteca programs, Mexican League soccer and sports analysis shows. Eventually, the network plans to offer local news programming.

The last few months have been rocky. The slowing national economy crippled Azteca America’s plans to secure the financing needed to buy stations in Dallas and El Paso. Last month, after TV Azteca’s plans to buy KXTX in Dallas fell through, rival Telemundo scooped up the station.

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Company officials refused to discuss any financial details. Angelos said the company is preparing to convert Pappas-owned stations to Azteca stations and buy new stations. He declined to name specific stations or markets.

“In the coming weeks, we plan to roll out more stations,” Angelos said. “It would certainly be in our interest to have more stations by the November sweeps.”

Wall Street analysts said it was critical for Azteca America to finally roll out its Los Angeles station. Miami-based Telemundo, which is owned jointly by Sony Corp. and AT&T; Corp.'s Liberty Media Group, is expanding to two stations each in both the Los Angeles and Miami markets, and Univision last month finalized the purchase of USA Broadcasting Networks stations in Miami, Dallas and Atlanta.

Univision also is planning to launch a second Spanish-language network in January. The Los Angeles-based company, which reaches more than 90% of U.S. Latino households, announced Tuesday that its new network would be called Telefutura.

“With Univision and Telemundo in the process of strengthening their positions, we believe the window of opportunity for a strong start was closing fast on Azteca America,” Salomon Smith Barney analyst Pablo Burbridge wrote Tuesday in a research report.

Though Azteca America “will only be present in Los Angeles, this is the key market for the company,” Burbridge wrote.

Industry experts said television stations are scarce assets and the market is rough for start-up media companies to obtain financing.

Angelos said it’s not too late for Azteca to become a player.

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“The market is expanding rapidly, not only in terms of Hispanic population but also in buying power,” Angelos said. “And companies are going to continue to increase their advertising spending toward Hispanic markets. I think there is plenty of room for another player.”


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