Programming Profile: TLN Telelatino

As new competitors enter the Spanish-language TV market in Canada, Telelatino repositions to address broader Latino aud - and targets English daytime share.

TLN Telelatino execs gathered for an informal branding and brainstorming session recently and the question came up: How do we describe ourselves? Someone joked about the old saying, ‘The three most important things in real estate are location, location and location.’ It didn’t take long for somebody else to suggest that the country’s number-one national Spanish and Italian programmer is about passion, passion and passion.

With three distinct programming blocks to reach its A25-54 target (Spanish from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Italian from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and English from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.), the 21-year-old channel’s biggest daypart audience is in the English-speaking audiences looking for Latino flair. In recent years, the Toronto HQ’d Telelatino has recognized its biggest growth opportunity in mainstream English programming.

‘We’re benchmarking ourselves against English language specialty channels,’ says TLN president Aldo Di Felice, adding that TLN is planning to roll out two English-language telenovelas in the New Year. ‘We’ve tried to re-position Telelatino to be more fruitful and address the broader audience for what we can call Latino television. We’ve combined subtitles, dual audio tracks on programming, running shows in multiple languages at different times of the week. We’ve basically combined a Spanish network, an Italian network and an English network all in one 24-hour linear channel.’

TLN Telelatino just recorded its highest numbers yet, with an 88,000 AMA on Wednesday, October 4 during its late-night broadcast of The Sopranos. The show averaged a 69,000 AMA for the week of September 25. To put these gains in context, in 2002 TLN recorded its biggest primetime audience to date at 249,000 viewers broadcasting that year’s World Cup coverage. This summer, the show’s first four seasons helped TLN hit fifth place on the Top 5 list of specialty channels in Ontario (NMR, June 5-Aug. 3, 11p-12a, ranked on A25-54).

As an added value feature, TLN brought in University of Alberta associate professor of Italian-Canadian literature and culture Dr. William Anselmi to host Sopranos 101, consisting of original segments that reveal hidden references in select episodes connecting to pop culture, Italian history and literature. This fall, TLN launched a weekly Italian version of The Sopranos (Sundays at 9 p.m.), which originally aired on Italy’s Canale 5, and began rerunning season’s one through five in English (11 p.m.).

‘That’s 65 episodes of The Sopranos that are keeping a lot of people up late at night,’ says Di Felice. ‘If you smooth out the averages of it since we started in June, we’ve been meeting or exceeding our estimate of 35,000-40,000 viewers, day in day out, on average, in terms of AMA. We’ve found a big 18-34 and a big 25-54.’

Younger audiences, along with the A25-54 target, who weren’t paying attention when the first few episodes of The Sopranos hit other airwaves in 1999 are now tuning into the show on TLN, says Di Felice. The specialty channel experienced similar gains at the beginning of 2005, when it began airing Everybody Loves Raymond in three different languages, which brought in contest sponsorship and advertising from Pizza Nova.

‘It’s kind of a phenomenon in the sense that our core audiences sometimes discovered Everybody Loves Raymond for the first time on Telelatino, despite the fact that it was on for eight years on CBS,’ says Di Felice, who adds: ‘It attracted a mainstream (audience) who flipped channels and have been watching Telelatino for the past year and a half.’

In Canada, according to PMB stats, there are 909,000 Spanish-speaking people over the age of 12 (up from 603,000 in 2000), and 946,000 Italian-speaking people over the age of 12 (up from 788,000 in 2000).

With major US networks aiming to replicate the Hispanic TV phenomenon (witness Ugly Betty, based on Colombian telenovela Betty La Fea and airing on CityTV this fall), competition for the Spanish-speaking demo is mounting in Canada. On Oct. 4, foreign channel importer TerraTerra Communications of Montreal announced that TV Chile Internacional and Mexico’s Azteca 13 Internacional are now on the air through Rogers Cable in Toronto and Videotron Cable in Montreal. The Montreal cable provider is also airing TVE Internacional, the public broadcasting network of Spain. TerraTerra chairperson/ CEO Claire Bourgeois says the channel expansion is geared ‘to meet the needs of the new enthusiastic and growing Hispanic market.’

Another Spanish specialty channel, TV Español, received CRTC approval on Sept. 28. TLN, which also runs the Super Trio Italiano (three premium digital TV channels direct from Italy: Sky TG 24, Video Italia and Leonardo World). TLN Telelatino did not attempt to intervene with the application. As competitors enter the fray and TLN navigates the ever-changing ways of audience engagement, lawyer-turned-broadcaster Di Felice says natural moves into the future include cataloguing hundreds upon hundreds of hours of VOD and Internet content and looking at other non-linear delivery methods such as mobile. Tie-ins and marketing opps will be part of the package, but he says one of TLN’s most successful developments in serving marketers is live events.

This year’s biggest was the second annual Hillcrest Village Salsa on St. Clair festival in Toronto, which saw the channel partner with the Hillcrest Village BIA and the City of Toronto to bring out an audience of about 250,000 on July 14 and 15. RBC had its lion mascot there, Bad Boy Furniture and Appliances had a presence, and Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation set up a lottery for an RV and had the vehicle on site for people to check out. Bell, XM Radio, Western Union and national CPG marketers (armed with samples) also got exposure. TLN partners with Paramount Canada’s Wonderland for other events, and is looking to expand the live engagement approach in Montreal. Di Felice says, ‘It gives our clients the opportunity to engage a live audience. It’s one thing to rely on post-broadcast statistics and it’s another to thing to actually deliver a crowd live.’