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Deutsche Welle joins broadcasting rush into Latin America

The rapidly increasing penetration of TV services in Latin America is causing broadcasters from countries in Europe and the Middle East to come in or expand existing services. The lure is a large, Spanish-speaking population combined with some limitations in local programming, creating demand for externally sourced content spanning both entertainment and current affairs.

One of the bigger investments is being made by Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), which is increasing its Spanish television service for Latin America from two to 20 hours daily starting this week. DW’s Director General Erik Bettermann said the new lineup for viewers between Mexico and Tierra del Fuego, even Portuguese-speaking Brazil, was part of a major initiative designed to increase the profile and penetration of Germany in international broadcasting. This involved a focus on improved communication with the target audience through new more clearly defined foreign language channels, regionalized programming, and a variety of multimedia content that can be used online. Bettermann indicated it was part of a broader campaign to increase Germany’s standing and reputation in the world to match its status as the world’s fourth richest nation, having been largely immune to the economic storm that has battered most of surrounding countries in the Eurozone.

The Director General also emphasized the importance of Latin America to Germany, with DW aiming to exploit its earlier entry to compete among a fast growing number of international broadcasters in the region. It currently has around 850 partners in the region, all including some of its programming in their channel lineups.

Part of this campaign to extent German influence involves including some programming in its own language in its output both in Latin America and elsewhere, perhaps with the option of local language subtitles. This also enables it to make use of existing content from the ARD and ZDF, rather than having to produce new material in Spanish. At the same time, some of the existing material can be readily reused with translation, so that programming from ARD and ZDF will make up around 60 percent of DW’s entire Latin American output.

Other European broadcasters are also making use of local partners to reach new audiences in Latin America. BBC Worldwide, the overseas and commercial arm of the BBC, runs two wholly-owned television channels in Latin America, BBC Entertainment, similar to BBC America in the U.S., and CBeebies, a channel dedicated to preschool children and their caregivers.

Both channels are available in 15 countries throughout Central and South America through a distribution agreement with Televisa Networks. In fact, the Spanish language CBeebies channel is also available to the US Hispanic market via DISH Network’s Dish Latino. In these cases, content is produced via partnerships between BBC Worldwide and the independent Latin American production companies GP Media, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Mixer, in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Other countries are also looking to TV as a soft weapon for gaining influence in Latin America, with Iran in Dec. 2011 launching its first Spanish-speaking channel, funded and run by the government. Called Hispan TV, the channel broadcasts 16 hours daily, and is avoiding blatant religious or political propaganda to focus on current affairs and documentary programs, as well as films and TV dramas.

Latin America is in the middle of a rapid expansion in TV consumption according to analyst group Rethink TV, generated by rising incomes combined with widespread availability of satellite services outside the urban areas where cable is often more dominant. This is being reflected in an explosion in pay TV subscriptions that began in 2009. Then, there were 29 million across Latin America. That number rose to 42 million in 2011 and is set to reach 61 million by 2014.