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Upfront and Personal: Azteca keys programming by building 'The Wall'

For its first U.S.-produced project, Spanish-language broadcast network Azteca (US) is tackling a story that has created many headlines on both sides of the border.

At its April 5 evening upfront presentation to advertisers at the Times Center in Manhattan, the network, the U.S. arm and wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican company Grupo Salinas, announced it is erecting "El Muro," or "The Wall."

In addition to delving into the immigration debate and a structure that was central to President Donald Trump's campaign promise, the drama could capture attention because of its unusual form: 50 episodes will be broken into blocks of five constructed around a central narrative of a love story between an undocumented immigrant and the officer in charge of her deportation. While each of the 10 smaller storylines will unfold over the course of five installments, the relationship between Adriana and Calixto will serve as the spine throughout the series' entire run.

Margarita Black, vice president of programming, told reporters in an interview after the presentation that casting and writing for "El Muro" are underway, and some scenes, involving American characters, would feature English-language dialog. Manuel Abud, Azteca America's president and CEO, told reporters the series would likely begin in late January 2018 and air over 10 consecutive weeks.

The building of "El Muro" was among a number of new projects that Azteca, which is available in 69 U.S. markets, believes will continue to buttress the growth it registered among total viewers (33%), adults 18 to 49 (28%) and 18 to 34 (29%) during the 2015-16 TV season, according to data from Nielsen Holdings.

The network also has ordered 13 one-hour episodes of "El Manicomio" ("Mental Hospital"), a thriller produced in Mexico in which an investigative reporter checks herself into the psychiatric hospital where her grandmother mysteriously died.

An import from Spain, drama "Vis a Vis" tells the story of a young, naïve woman who falls for her boss, who manipulates her into illegal activities that land her in prison for seven years. Incarcerated, she must adapt to life inside in order to survive.

Through an exclusive content partnership with Turkey's KANAL D, Azteca has access to 1,000 hours, including "For My Son," a series about an ex-cop on an undercover mission within Istanbul's top mafia family as he tries to reunite with his son, and "Crossroads," in which a wealthy family loses its fortune.

Returning series include news magazine "Al Extremo," which combines video clips capturing extraordinary events and some of life's lighter moments, as well as human interest, crime and entertainment segments. In "Escape Perfecto," hosted by Rafael Mercadante and Adianez Hérnandez, two contestants work together to complete trivia and physical challenges to grab prizes from a gigantic cage before the doors slam shut.

On the sports side, Azteca, which has sold the rights to a number of Mexican soccer clubs, will serve up 10 hours per week, including magazine show "Pasion Deportiva" and recap entry "DeportTV."

New to the lineup are "Knockout," a reality series chronicling the journeys of boxers before they climb into the ring, and "Combate Americas Azteca," the Hispanic Mixed Martial Arts franchise. In addition to a weekly hour show, Azteca will present monthly 90-minute live specials as it looks to appeal to younger viewers.

The network said it is teaming with video ad platform Videology to become the first Hispanic programmer to facilitate programmatic advertising deals.

Craig Geller, executive vice president of network sales and digital, said during the presentation that Azteca will share Nielsen TV Index data during its meetings with agencies and clients. The data will be integrated with behavioral information from Simmons Research, showing that the network helps drive category sales. He noted that one-in-five of the network’s viewers are looking to purchase a new vehicle. "Many insights like this are available," he said.

After the presentation, Geller said Azteca expects the data to help the network get more business from the automotive industry. "We're looking to build out with one or two nameplates from the different manufacturers," he said. "We’re not just getting the truck sales, but the cars as well."

He also pointed to movies as an opportunity, where the hope is that studios will look to expand their buys to categories beyond action-adventure titles.

Regarding consumer packaged goods, Geller said Hispanics over-index against all categories, and they are "looking to prove that out."

With quick-service restaurants, the opportunity is big, considering that Latinos visit these establishments 10 times over a 30-day period. "Helping the QSRs sell into the register is what we are looking at," he said.

Azteca America's New York presentation was the first of five formal upfront events, with others slated for Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and for the first time this year, Miami.