Two English-language cable networks, the independent Sí TV and NBC Telemundo's mun2, have been trying to establish themselves as the go-to TV channel for young U.S. Hispanics.
U.S Hispanic youths are the fastest-growing demographic in the country, and, from an advertiser's standpoint, are a dream segment. They're young, educated, with disposable incomes, and a big appetite for media. And for those who were born in the United States or grew up here, a slew of recent studies show that they want that media in English or English dominant.
But selling those facts to advertisers and cable companies is easier said than done, especially when much of the Hispanic-focused infrastructure relies on the paradigm that Hispanic media is synonymous with Spanish-language media. Evidence suggesting the opposite – a 2004 survey by Ohio's BIGresearch, for example, found that Hispanics' favorite cable network was TV Land – tends to get ignored.
So, much like the profitable Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first cable network to target African Americans 26 years ago, Sí TV and mun2 are painting a picture of their potential audience that differs from the stereotypes. (They also wouldn't mind emulating BET in other ways – that BIGresearch survey found BET was the most popular cable network among African Americans.)
Adding to the problem is the difficulty of determining what content this acculturated audience wants – a dilemma that already shook up management at both Sí TV and mun2.
"We're on the leading edge of the cusp. Maybe the cable systems have not caught up yet and need to be convinced that this is a very important audience that's there for the taking," says Edward Leon, who replaced Sí TV founder Jeff Valdez as programming director earlier this year. "Getting everyone to agree that there's a real audience is a real education process."
They're not alone, though. Independent Hispanic-run production companies such as Galan Entertainment and AIM Tell-A-Vision have specialized in English-language fare with a Hispanic face for several years.
The resulting challenges for the networks are convincing cable systems to offer the new networks a channel slot in an overcrowded space and having the money to see it through.
Sí TV, which launched in February 2004, was able to attract EchoStar Communications, owner of DISH network, as a major investor. The network says it currently reaches more than 13 million U.S. homes with televisions, while mun2 says it reaches more than 10 million homes – less than 10 percent of the nation's 110 million households with televisions.
One cultural key the networks possess may be an understanding of how age plays into their "ethnic" content.
"What I've been hearing for the last eight years is that the Latino market is really big, really important, but I've yet to see anyone who has solidly and comfortably gotten a grip on how to tap into that," says Dr. Ines Poza of Poza Consulting Services, a research and strategic planning firm for television and advertising. She believes it's as important to identify trends within the demographic. "We're still locked into this archaic view of characterizing; we're so used to thinking (only) in terms of African American, Latino, Asian … forget about looking at black versus white – look at 20 versus 40."
Can these networks give Hispanic youth the entertainment they want?
"We've always believed that the Latino youth should be represented by a brand that is giving them what nobody else is," says Alex Pels, general manager at mun2. "What we're trying to achieve at Telemundo is representing them with a brand that talks to them."
Both networks feature a mixture of programming that includes reality shows, comedy sketches, films, and music.
In September, Sí TV debuted the "Dating Factory," a reality-based dating show featuring TV star Mario Lopez. Numerous other shows are in production, including a program called "Flow & Tell" in which the audience gets control of the cameras.
"They get to talk to us about whatever they want. They can rant about politics or do a love poem for their girlfriend," Mr. Leon explains. "Young Latinos get their five minutes of fame."
Mun2 was launched in 2001 and billed itself as the first bilingual cable network for young Hispanics. Four years later, the network moved from Miami to Los Angeles, replaced its old executive team, and underwent a major makeover. It is also stepping up its programming with numerous shows, including quarterly news specials that feature topics like immigration and young Hispanics in the military.
To further build its brand, mun2 recently debuted a revamped version of its Web site and changed its name to holamun2.com. The new version allows users to build content they can post on their MySpace page, as well as short films and episode highlights of mun2 shows.
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