By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
Galavision holds a unique position in television history. Not only was it the first Spanish-language service in the continental United States, but it is also the only network that during its lifetime has been a pay TV channel, a broadcast channel and now a cable channel.
It was created “to bring diversity and quality programming to the growing Hispanic community,” said its senior VP and general manager, Joanne Lynch.
In the fall of 1979, Rene Anselmo and his Satellite International Network launched Galavision as a 24-hour pay service based in Mexico City. The channel offered mostly feature films and miniseries produced in Spain, Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries, along with a few Italian-language programs.
At the outset, the Mexican media company Televisa owned more than a quarter of Galavision. Due to the Federal Communications Commission’s rule that U.S. TV stations cannot have more than 25 percent foreign ownership, SIN sold the service to Hallmark.
During the Hallmark years, Galavision became international, extending to the European markets. It began providing more original bilingual programming, and in 1989 was switched to a broadcast service with affiliates throughout California, Texas and the Southwest.
Hallmark sold its Univision assets, including Galavision, for $550 million in April 1992. A. Jerrold Perenchio, a media figure who once was Norman Lear’s partner in Embassy Communications, has the majority share, with minority interests held by Televisa and Venevision, the Venezuela-based media firm.
Mr. Perenchio and his staff manage the Univision networks, including Galavision, from offices in Los Angeles and Miami. Univision’s networks have exclusive United States rights to programs from Televisa and Venevision.
Noting Univision’s lack of profitability for Hallmark, financial analysts considered it a risky investment in 1992. One reason, said an analyst at the time, was that traditional broadcasters did not understand the Spanish-language market, which analysts saw as “low economic and not having a lot of selling power.”
Mr. Perenchio answered by saying, “The U.S. Hispanic marketplace is growing dramatically and is ready to support the highest quality in television entertainment.”
One of the first things the new Univision did was complete the cycle for Galavision by switching it to a cable network and a regional satellite network in the Southwest.
Mr. Perenchio has been proven right. Univision is now the fifth-largest broadcast entity in the U.S., and Galavision has tripled its distribution since 1992 and tops all 13 other Spanish-language cable networks combined in audience.