When Bernadette Aulestia came to the United States from Ecuador 11 years ago, she didn't expect to be here long. "I came here to go to Brown University, and I ended up staying," she says with a laugh.
Neither did she expect to be in the position she's in today. "I started out as an investment banker," she recalls, sounding a bit befuddled by her initial career choice, "but ultimately, I discovered that it just wasn't where I wanted to be."
She's there now. As the director of target marketing for the African-American and Hispanic markets at Home Box Office (HBO), Ms. Aulestia has helped launch HBO Latino, a free channel for the cable network's subscribers unveiled last November. Two years in the making, it provides programming geared toward U.S. Hispanics.
HBO Latino is not just another Spanish-language network. Ms. Aulestia explains that the new channel offers popular U.S. movies dubbed into Spanish, Spanish-language imports, and movies produced by Hispanics in the United States.
"We're just beginning to see a lot of movies that are done by U.S. independent Latino filmmakers," she says, "and some of them are in English because that is the experience of the filmmaker." The decision to present a movie with or without dubbing is a question of relevancy, she points out. "It has to be thematically tied to the market."
More broadly, HBO Latino takes pains to portray the realities of its audience.
"The perception [among Hispanic viewers] of Spanish-language television so far has been that it doesn't necessarily speak to their experience here," explains Ms. Aulestia, who coordinates marketing for and helped develop HBO Latino. "They want to see things that are reflective of them, their lifestyles here in the United States."
Ms. Aulestia says the new channel offers of mix of programming that reflects viewers' lives in the United States as well as their connection to countries in the Spanish-speaking world.
"Part of their life in the States is influenced by what's happening [in Spanish-speaking countries]," she says of the channel's viewers. "So you have to be sensitive to that. You could say that they want to have a little bit of both."
According to Ms. Aulestia, the new channel is unique on two levels. One is branding – HBO Latino's general character and personality. Branding is achieved through a trademark style in everything from the type of movies and shows featured to the so-called "interstitials" that introduce upcoming programs.
"The expectations were that we would have a U.S. brand that would really speak to this marketplace, one that would really reflect what people – consumers – and their interests look like here in the United States," says Ms. Aulestia.
The new channel's programming is equally unique, she says. For that, Ms. Aulestia explains, HBO has boldly ventured into a number of new areas not ordinarily associated with the cable movie channel. In addition to traditional feature movies, for example, HBO Latino airs an array of music-related programming, such as videos, concerts, and behind-the-scenes interviews.
The programming area that Ms. Aulestia finds most interesting is documentaries. "I love the documentary arena because it is one of the areas where you see how Latinos in the United States really communicate and live their lives. Acquiring that product has made HBO Latino much stronger."
HBO Latino is innovative in other ways as well. For example, while Latin pop stars such as Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez get plenty of air time, viewers are also exposed to newer artists and those from areas that aren't traditionally featured on television, such as Tex-Mex performers and poets.
Of course, HBO Latino is still a movie channel, and programming revolves around hit movies. "They're interested in the Hollywood blockbusters, just like everybody else," Ms. Aulestia confesses. "But they also want the best films from Spanish-speaking countries and the best new films by Latino filmmakers in the U.S. People are interested in Gladiator, but they are just as interested in Before Night Falls and All About My Mother."
The combination seems to be working. According to Ms. Aulestia, HBO Latino is now viewed in 30 percent of U.S. Hispanic homes.
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