Mexican broadcasting giant TV Azteca has realized its long-standing ambition to enter the US by creating Azteca America, a third Hispanic network that is armed with investment commitments worth nearly $500m.

Azteca, Mexico's second largest broadcaster, has joined forces with private station owner Pappas Telecasting to bankroll the venture, which is slated to launch full operations in the second quarter of 2001.

The network goes up against leading network Univision, which is 20% owned by Televisa, Azteca's arch rival in Mexico, and the struggling Telemundo, co-owned by Liberty Media and Sony Pictures Entertainment. At stake are the US' 33 million Spanish-speaking TV viewers and an estimated $421 billion Hispanic consumer market.

Azteca, which will own 20% of the start-up network, will provide exclusive programming for 20 years, with a 10-year renewal option.

The move north of the border comes after Azteca raised the programming stakes in Mexico when it began producing in-house soap operas (telenovelas) in 1996. Its first soap, Nada Personal (Nothing Personal), took 22% of Mexico's 17m TV households with a startling blend of political corruption and taboo issues such as homosexuality and prostitution.

Azteca currently produces 9,500 hours of programming per year, including telenovelas, talk shows, news and comedy programmes. It also owns soccer teams in Mexico.