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Upfront and Personal: Azteca America opens up in-house digital production studio

unveiled an in-housedigital production unit at its upfront presentation in New York as well as continuingefforts to fortify its prime-time lineup aimed at counter-programming the top U.S.Spanish-language networks.

Executivesat the U.S. arm and wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican company said Azteca GlassWorks Studiowill produce multiplatform stories bearing customized messaging for marketers.

CraigGeller, executive vice president of network sales and digital at Azteca America,said in an interview after the April 12 presentation that the unit's producers willcreate content reflective of Latino culture and the broadcaster's brand.

"We'relooking to connect with audiences on an emotional basis around such passion pointsas sports and music," he said. "We think there are huge opportunitieshere and it plays well with Azteca's history of story-telling, which is now evolvingto new platforms."

Gellersaid the content "would roll out on a client-by-client basis" and travelwherever consumers' journeys take them: TV, tablets, smartphones or desktops.

SNL Image
Azteca America President and CEO Manuel Abud
Source: Roxxe Ireland/Marc Bryan-Brown

AztecaAmerica said it is incorporating Real-Time Participatory Media technology into itsprogramming to create more engagement with viewers, while also serving as a data-collectiontool into audience behavior. Geller said the technology enables viewers to answertrivia questions and engage in polling activities, and works well with game showsand soccer.

He notedthat viewers could vote for a top player of a soccer match, something that is typicallydecided by producers. With RPM, the viewers' voting results would be sent to a mastercontrol room and then be reflected on-air. A sideline reporter would then conductan interview with the "advertiser player of the game," Geller said.  "How great would it be for a fan to say heor she had an impact on that decision?"

The network,which Geller said has already inked early ad deals around RPM, will participatein both digital and TV programmatic platforms, with details to be revealed in theweeks ahead.

ManuelAbud, president and CEO, said Azteca America had registered gains in 2015 acrossall key demos, including 41% growth among adults 18 to 49 and a 44% rise againstmillennials ages 18 to 34 in prime time. He said ratings momentum is continuingwith the network scoring its best March prime-time demo deliveries in five years.

Abud,who joined Azteca America in 2014, has instituted defined programming that countersthe telenovelas often favored by UnivisionCommunications Inc.'s flagship Univision (US) service and NBCUniversal Media LLC's Telemundo (US) in prime time.

AztecaAmerica has been running family-oriented, game show fare at 7 p.m., under the LaHora Gandora (The Winning Hour) banner, which features "Todo o Nada" and"Escape Perfecto," in which a team of two contestants strive to grab prizesfrom the "cage" before the doors close. Joining the lineup is "AhoraCaigo," a crossword-style game where "the hero" tries to beat 10"strangers" in solving the puzzle and beat the 20-second clock.

The networkfollows with adventure/reality fare in the 8 p.m. hour, notably "La Isla."Now in its fifth season, the show, hosted by Alejandro Lukini, pits Mexican celebritiesagainst two other groups of unknown participants as they use mental and physicalskills in vying for a cash prize.  

SNL Image
"Rabia" will be added to Azteca America's drama lineup
Source: Azteca America

"Desafio,"a new entry, will test human endurance levels, with players battling the forcesof nature in exotic locales in Morocco and India. Using a system of progressiveelimination, the contestants compete for cash and other prizes.

Newsmagazines,like "Al Extremo" ("To the Extreme"), are scheduled in the 9p.m. hour. Hosted by Veronica del Castillo and Juan Barragan, the show combinesvideo clips capturing extraordinary events, as well as some of life's lighter moments,and presents human-interest, crime and entertainment segments.

AztecaAmerica goes dramatic at 10 p.m., currently home to Turkish acquisition, "Kacak"("The Fugitive"). In new series "Rabia," the government looksto stop the spread of rabies and attendant mass chaos by quarantining the infected.However, a group manages to escape and hide in an abandoned shelter, as the seriestells the tale of what happens when people face an extreme situation beyond theircontrol.

"Wehave stable time periods with games shows and reality programming to newsmagazineand more cutting-edge dramas," said Geller. "We're the fastest-growingnetwork, with 14 months of continuing growth and no retrenchment in March. We transitionthe audience through the night, giving them choice, and more and more are choosingus."

Networkofficials said Azteca America is also scoring well with its soccer coverage, highlightedby home-team match presentations of Club Atlas, Monarcas Morelia, Santos Laguna,and Tijuana from Liga MX,Mexico's top futbol circuit. Kicking off last July, Azteca America expanded itscoverage from prime time on Fridays to Saturday nights as well.