Twenty-six years ago, Fox emerged from nowhere to give audiences something they didn't even know they were missing: an alternative to the Big 3 networks that once dominated broadcasting.
MundoFox premieres Monday with hopes of doing the same thing – but in Spanish.
The network hopes to find a niche by emulating U.S. programming in every way except the language in which it is delivered. It aims to set itself apart from top-rated Spanish-language network Univision and second-place Telemundo with programming that breaks barriers the way Fox did a quarter-century ago with shows like "Married…. With Children" and "The Simpsons."
"When you're a Latino you have potentially two choices: You either have Spanish-language television that hasn't changed very much in ten years, that's very heavy on telenovelas and speaks much to the traditional Latino viewers," said Hernan Lopez, president and CEO of Fox International Channels. "And then you have the best television in the world, which happens to be in English. There isn't a third choice, and MundoFox is coming in to bring that third choice. That means television that feels, looks, sounds like American shows, but just happens to be created in Spanish."
MundoFox comes into the Spanish-language market with brand recognition that Fox took years to build. The new network is airing in 50 markets representing 80 percent of U.S. Hispanic households.
But it will face the same question Fox did: Whether there are enough viewers to go around. For Fox, there were. It is now the top-rated network in the key 18-49 demographic.
For MundoFox, it's an open question. It is only the latest network launched or partnership forged by U.S. networks trying to grab a fast-expanding Latino population.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 43 percent, or four times the nation's growth rate overall. Overall, Latinos represented 16 percent of the U.S. population, or 50.5 million of the 308.7 million Americans.
Latino viewers, however, are watching less TV than viewers overall. According to a Nielsen study last year, the average U.S. viewer watches five hours and 11 minutes daily. African-Americans watch the most, 7 hours and 12 minutes, followed by whites, who watch five hours and 2 minutes, Latinos, with 4 hours and 35 minutes, and Asians, who watch three hours and 14 minutes.
Still, one of MundoFox's established competitors says there's no shortage of Spanish-speaking viewers.
"The fact that there are new players coming to our industry validates the power and influence of the U.S. Hispanic market and helps increase the awareness of the opportunities in this dynamic and vibrant audience," said a spokeswoman for the NBCUniversal-owned Telemundo.
Univision declined to comment for this story. It boasts a 73 percent share of the Hispanic market despite competition from Telemundo and others. A decade ago it had 79 percent of the market. It is the fifth-highest-rated network overall in primetime.
Univision's share of Latino viewers is disappointing not only for its Spanish-language competitors but for its English-language ones. Last week, The New York Times noted the failure of even top-rated shows like "Modern Family," "Two and a Half Men" and "NCIS" to draw sizable Hispanic audiences.
The Times suggested that stereotypical characterizations in primetime might be one reason Latinos are cold on U.S. shows. Lopez has another theory: If you don't speak perfect English, the shows can be very hard to follow. That was his experience when he came to the U.S. from Argentina, he said.
"When I moved to the U.S. 15 years ago, my English wasn't perfect and one of the most difficult things to do was follow an American show because you have to follow every word and every situation and every expression," he said.
Now he can fully appreciate shows he couldn't before, he said: His favorite show is "Modern Family."
MundoFox's programming plans include teleseries – action/romance hybrids that skew more male than the telenovelas so popular on Spanish-language networks. MundoFox's premiere teleseries, the previously aired "El Capo 2," follows a fictional drug lord. Its other shows include "Los Exitosos Perez," a comedic look at identity theft, and "Kdabra," a supernatural series with a 17-year-old protagonist.
Those shows may sound like they could work for English- or Spanish-speaking audiences — which is the point. MundoFox hopes to emulate English-language TV without alienating fans of traditional Spanish-language TV.
Take its tagline, "Americano como tu," which translates as "American like you." That might seem like a naked bid for an assimilated audience, but it isn't.
Many in Latin America consider themselves American — they inhabit one of the American continents — though people in the U.S. generally think the term refers only to them. Viewers, Lopez said, tend to interpret the tagline to refer to either usage of the word.
"That's working in our favor," he said. "Because both people born in the U.S. and Latinos born in Latin America see that and interpret it the way they see it."
English-language networks are also making serious efforts to draw Hispanics to their news broadcasts. ABC News and Univision recently formed an especially high-profile partnership.
Rather than partnering with Fox News, MundoFox will offer its own nightly newscast. Based in Los Angeles, it will air in different versions twice nightly – once for the East Coast and once for the West.