Televisa, Cisneros Group Leverage Libraries to Grow Biz in U.S.

by Cynthia Littleton VARIETY / / In The News

Some of the biggest players in Spanish-language TV have their eye on a promising growth market: los Estados Unidos.

Just as showbiz’s largest congloms are looking to overseas markets to fuel future profits, Latin American giants are trying to leverage their vast libraries to capitalize on the thriving global import-export business in TV. Among the prime examples, Mexican media behemoth Televisa and Venezuela’s Cisneros Group are stepping up efforts to produce English-language programming for general-market broadcast and cable outlets.

Televisa set up a small office in Los Angeles two-and-a-half years ago to pitch its many formats — from gameshows to telenovelas to traditional drama series — to U.S. buyers, and to be involved in the projects as co-producers.

Cisneros Group, parent company of Venezuela’s dominant Venevision network, has recently amped up its ambition to become a larger player in international TV under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Adriana Cisneros.

During last month’s NATPE confab, Cisneros Group execs talked up its plans to expand the company’s distribution operations, starting with a name change from Venevision Intl. to Cisneros Media Distribution. It also unveiled a partnership with Bungalow Media, led by TV biz vet Robert Friedman, to develop English- and Spanish-lingo fare for Latin auds.

Televisa has had no trouble getting projects off the ground. Lifetime drama “Devious Maids” is based on a Televisa format, as is the upcoming ABC Family drama “Chasing Life.” Nickelodeon’s TeenNick experimented in 2012 with a redo of a Televisa sudser, “Hollywood Heights,” which was programmed like a novela, with 180 episodes that unspooled five nights a week.

“This is part of the globalization of Televisa,” said Michael Garcia, chief creative officer of Televisa USA and a former development exec at HBO and 20th Century Fox TV. “The biggest growth market for Televisa is the U.S.”

Televisa owns a sizable stake in Univision, and it’s the Spanish-lingo network’s major supplier of programming, novelas and otherwise. Per the terms of that deal, Televisa cannot produce Spanish-language programming for any non-Univision outlets in the U.S. But that leaves the company with plenty of turf to turn to at a time when general-market buyers are hungry to attract Hispanic viewers.

“Every time we go to a meeting, people ask us, ‘How can we attract a bigger Latino audience?’ ” said Paul Presburger, managing director of Televisa USA.

Presburger is also CEO of Pantelion Films, Televisa’s joint venture with Lionsgate to produce and distribute pics designed for Latin auds in the U.S. and beyond. Pantelion recently scored a box office hit on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border with the comedy “Instructions Not Included.”

The lesson from the success of “Instructions” is that Latino auds want to see themselves in vehicles with universal themes more than they want shows made for Latinos, Presburger explained. “The more you pander to them, the less they’re interested.”