By Christina Hoag, The Miami Herald, The Miami Herald
Dec. 20--Colombia's Caracol Television has bought a stake in WGEN-TV 8 and its related stations, in a move that promises to raise the competitive stakes in South Florida's hot Spanish-language TV market.
Caracol will take a 25 percent share of the Key West-based station, which is owned by Los Angeles ophthalmologist and media entrepreneur William De La Pena's Sonia Broadcasting.
Sonia, which recently sold Miami's WDLP-TV 22 to Spanish Broadcasting System, will remain a minority shareholder while a New York-based group of investment bankers will be the majority owners. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"This new venture will produce a wide range of original programs that reflect the unique social and cultural diversity of Miami and its surrounding areas, as well as offer top-quality Latin-American programming content," said Paulo Laserna, president of Caracol Television, Colombia's leading broadcaster.
The deal gives Caracol, whose international arm is based in Miami, an outlet in the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic media market for its telenovelas, children's shows and other TV fare. Another Colombian producer, RTI, has a deal with Telemundo to produce novelas for the Hialeah-based network.
Owned by Colombia's powerful Santo Domingo family, which has many business interests in and out of the South American nation, Caracol also brings considerable financial heft to promote the full-power station. The station has distribution on South Florida cable systems.
The company said it plans to launch a new programming format and branding strategy next spring after approval from the Federal Communications Commission is issued.
WGEN currently airs several low-profile Spanish-language shows during prime-time and paid programming during the day. A beefed-up WGEN will intensify the competition for South Florida's Hispanic TV viewers, particularly among independent stations, said Spanish-language media watcher Jose Cancela.
The leader in that niche is currently WJAN-TV America TeVe 41, with an all-original nightly news and variety show lineup that aims at the area's large Cuban population.
WDLP-TV, which is being renamed MegaTV, is planning to relaunch in the spring with a similar strategy of locally oriented shows.
With new ownership, WGEN will be a stronger player, Cancela said.
"The space is very crowded now," he said. "Caracol will come in with their programming. There'll still be one leader, 41, and two weaker stations, but it remains to be seen if 41 can continue its leadership."
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