It's the best of times and the toughest of times to launch a Spanish-language network in the U.S.
MundoFox, the joint venture of Fox International Channels and Colombia's RCN Television, will mark its first anniversary Aug. 13. Like any newborn, the broadcast net has experienced growing pains, facing an uphill climb in drawing viewers and gaining distribution in key Hispanic markets.
MundoFox has fallen short of its stated goal last year to reach 70% of Hispanic homes by May; the new network is available to less than half the nation's 14.1 million Hispanic TV households, though it expects to surpass the 50% threshold soon.
New York has been a particular problem for the network, which has only a weak station affiliate in the nation's No. 1 media market. MundoFox stations consist mostly of smaller indie broadcasters, which have a hard time gaining cable and satellite carriage.
"It would be fair to acknowledge that securing carriage has been more difficult than we anticipated," says Fox International Channels prexy Hernan Lopez.
According to Nielsen, MundoFox has averaged 70,000 total viewers in primetime since September, and about 40,000 viewers in the adults 18-49 and adults 25-54 demos, falling short of the viewership level it promised advertisers. That's a fraction of the aud commanded by market leader Univision and No. 2 player, Telemundo, as well as Univision's UniMas sibling network. But it is within striking distance of Azteca America (110,000 total viewers), the U.S. offshoot of the Mexican media giant that launched in 2001.
MundoFox is backed by formidable media congloms, but it's still a new entrant in a crowded field.
"There's been an explosion of new U.S. Hispanic cable networks competing for space," says Antonio Ruiz of Hispanic ad agency Vidal Partnership. General market outlets also have been investing in more programming content aimed at Latinos. The increasing options spell further fragmentation of auds and of the Hispanic ad spend, which is growing fast, but still comprises less than 10% of total TV ad expenditures.
"Until the top 50 U.S. marketers increase their (domestic) Hispanic media budgets, these networks won't see a substantial increase in their ad revenues," Ruiz notes.
Fox vows to show patience, and to continue to invest in the one thing that will lift all boats: programming. On July 29, the network launched "El Factor X," a variation on Fox's "The X Factor." Jany Borges, associate media director of Hispanic ad agency Zubi Advertising, says the show has generated buzz.
Some observers say the heavy volume of Colombian programming that comes to MundoFox from RCN has been a harder sell among viewers in the U.S., who are largely of Mexican descent.
In a nod to that audience, MundoFox has commissioned three original skeins for the upcoming broadcast season. FoxTelecolombia and Sony Pictures TV co-produce "Amor con Angel" ("Angel of Love"), which centers on a woman who finds inspiration from watching videos of the late Mexican comedic icon Cantinflas. The two also are working on a film adaptation (still under wraps) in Mexico. RCN also has been aiming to tailor its programming more for the U.S. market, says Saccone. Its crime drama "El Capo 3," slated to debut on MundoFox in 2014, was shot on location in New York and Los Angeles, as well as Mexico, Colombia and Europe.
MundoFox is also leaning on its 21st Century Fox siblings for programming and promotional support.
Earlier this month, MundoFox ran a dubbed sneak preview of FX's new drama "The Bridge," starring Mexican thesp Demian Bichir, which garnered 300,000 viewers. The series will air in its entirety on MundoFox after its first season wraps on FX. (The series hails from another 21st Century Fox entity, Shine Group, which also has produced original series for MundoFox.)
All told, as the network's first birthday approaches, Fox's Lopez and Saccone say they are relatively pleased with MundoFox's progress, and hope that the past is prologue for the startup venture.
"If you look back at the initial years of Fox, FX and the others," Lopez says, "the first year consists of setting up the foundation for the foundation."