Multichannel News: WAPA's Winning Strategy: Think Local
July 20, 2011
Q&A With Alan Sokol, Senior Investment Partner, InterMedia
By Laura Martinez
When InterMedia Partners forked over $130 million to acquire WAPA-TV in 2007, the full-power independent station in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was No. 3 in the market, behind Univision and Telemundo's stations. Barely four years later, WAPA-TV now dominates the island's audience numbers, ruling in primetime and among the coveted 18-49 demographic. Per Nielsen, WAPA Television was the highest-rated broadcast station in Puerto Rico in 2010, beating both Univision and Telemundo in total day (6 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday-Friday) and primetime (6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday-Friday) in households and all key demos. On the mainland, WAPA-TV's cable network, WAPA America, continues to gain traction with recent launches on Comcast and Time Warner Cable systems. InterMedia's senior investment partner Alan Sokol spoke recently to Hispanic TV Update about WAPA's unprecedented ratings gains and its most ambitious production to date: Puerto Rico Idol, a local spinoff of the lucrative American Idol franchise, set to premiere July 2.
MCN: What would you say has been the evolution of WAPA in the four years since InterMedia Partners acquired it in 2007?
Alan Sokol: When we acquired the station, we had a vision for what the station could - and should - be, and that was to make WAPA the local leader in Puerto Rico and to leverage our local production capability to grow WAPA America in the U.S. I think we have largely achieved those goals.
MCN: How is the TV market in Puerto Rico different from the one on the mainland?
AS: Puerto Rico is basically a three-station market, where Telemundo, Univision and WAPA-TV account for 75 percent of all TV viewing. This is highly unusual, when you think of it.
In the U.S., the top four networks collectively represent about 40% or so in primetime. Puerto Rico is much more broadcast-driven than the U.S., and broadcasters are much more powerful there than they are in the U.S.
I'd say the TV market in Puerto Rico is almost what it used to be here in 1975, where three networks controlled the vast majority of the viewing. That is what attracted us to Puerto Rico; that is such a strong broadcast market.
MCN: What's the competition like with Telemundo and Univision?
AS: They are two formidable competitors, and both, Univision and Telemundo get most of their programming from big parent companies in the U.S. We, at independent WAPA-TV, didn't have that advantage; we didn't have a parent to provide us with hundreds of hours of programming. But we decided to turn that into an advantage by really becoming focused on the local market and being the leader of local entertainment. The result? We produce more local news and more local entertainment than anyone else in the market.
MCN: Producing all your content is also an expensive proposition.
AS: The only way to really rationalize the cost of producing locally is to spread the cost of programming on other outlets, which in our case is [U.S. cable channel] WAPA America. That has been a big benefit. WAPA America has become very strong because of all the local programming we bring from the island into the U.S.
MCN: What has been the result of your bet on local programming so far?
AS: I am very proud of how well we've done. When we acquired the station, WAPA-TV was the No. 3 in the market ... and for the last year and a half it has been the No. 1 station in the market, every single month. We have 16 of the top 20 programs among adults 18-49; we are the highest-rated station in households and adults 18-49.
We have the No. 1 program in the market by far, Super Xclusivo, which does a 40 tp 50 share every night; literally, it's like having the Super Bowl every single night! We also have the highest rated news programming in the island.
MCN: Tell us about the upcoming premiere (July 29) of Idol Puerto Rico.
AS: We had been talking to Fremantle [owners of the Pop Idol franchise] for a while now; at first they said they were committed to doing Latin American idol, and that precluded them from doing a local version in Puerto Rico. But they cleared up those issues and as soon as they did we jumped on the opportunity.
We have found unbelievable singers in Puerto Rico, that even Freemantle told us they were astonished by the quality of the talent found in such a small market. We have also received record-setting advertising buys for the show: Coke, AT&T, Ford and Burger King, who sponsored American Idol.
MCN: Will you be airing Idol Puerto Rico on WAPA America?
AS: No, we can't. Fox has exclusivity of the Idol format in the United States.
MCN: What are InterMedia's plans for WAPA-TV? Are there plans to sell in the near future?
AS: There is no plan to sell WAPA any time soon. Obviously, we're a private-equity company, and ultimately we're in business to return money to our investments, so at some point down the line, there will be a sale; but we have no intention to sell now. We like the business. We like the growth of the business.