The language in which young U.S. Hispanics prefer their TV shows differs depending on who you ask.
For now, three networks are hoping to lure viewers with a mixture of both English and bilingual formulas in the hopes of becoming the brand of choice for young U.S. Hispanics.
The last six years has seen an emergence of Hispanic-themed television networks seeking to attract a youth audience.
Television programming for the acculturated U.S Hispanic is relatively new.
Much like the profitable Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first cable network to target African Americans 27 years ago, Si TV, mun2 and LATV are producing programming specifically for bilingual and bicultural Hispanics between the ages of 12 and 34. TV networks capture the biggest advertising dollars when they attract viewers ages 18 to 34 – a prized demographic for advertisers trying to build brand loyalty.
The future of Hispanic television programming – bilingual or English-language shows - remains unclear. What is clear for the nascent networks is who their target audience is. Young U.S. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in the country. They're bicultural and educated with sizable incomes and a big appetite for media.
"This is a demographic that is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger," says Alex Pels, general manager at mun2. "But, what we've seen is that most of these young Latino Americans don't identify with a specific brand or company. There is not a lot of media out there that is designed with them in mind."
The three networks are scrambling to fill that void and at the same time attempting to build an identity that speaks to Hispanic youth.
Mun2, which launched in 2001, billed itself as the first bilingual cable network for young Hispanics, and featured primarily music programming. In 2005, mun2 relaunched with a new look and moved its headquarters from Miami to Los Angeles. It also introduced a slate of new shows, including "Have U Cine?" which features Latin American cinema and "The Chicas Project," a reality-based show that pairs two young hosts, Crash, a Mexican-American from Los Angeles and Yasmin, a Dominican from New York.
Since then, the network has had nonstop quarterly ratings increases. Its recent third quarter saw a 23 percent ratings increase from the prior year, says Mr. Pels.
"We've gotten a great reaction from viewers," he said.
Mun2 has seen its nationwide distribution climb from 10.5 million households in 2006 to 17 million today, according to Nielsen Media Research.
While Spanish-language media has predominantly been the place advertisers go to tap into the U.S. Hispanic market, networks like mun2, Si TV and LATV are painting a different picture of the U.S. Hispanic consumer that differs from the stereotypes.
"I believe both Hispanic and general market agencies are starting to see that (Hispanic) demos are not in just one place, that is Spanish-language media," says Mr. Pels. "Everyone's getting a little savvier. This is about a very clearly defined new demographic where before it was encapsulated in Spanish-only media. They realize that they have to get behind this medium that is targeting young Latinos."
The three-year-old Si TV network, like its competitors, features a mixture of programming that includes reality-based shows, comedy sketches and music. To better connect with its TV audience, Si TV recently debuted two new Web sites – entertainment.sitv.com and trends.sitv.com.
"Clearly the world has changed since 2004 and people's ability to enjoy entertainment on multiple platforms has dramatically changed," says Michael Schwimmer, Si TV's chief executive officer. "Our content is really available on multiple platforms."
Unlike its two competitors, Si TV prefers its programming to be English only.
"I'm not a fan of bilingual programming," says Mr. Schwimmer. "The English-only format allows us to really celebrate Latino culture for everybody, not just Latinos."
Si TV says it continues to expand its reach despite the continuing battle to secure cable carriage. The network says it currently reaches 16 million homes, up from 13 million this time last year.
"I think the only real growing pain of any significance is securing cable carriage. That's the biggest hurdle," says Mr. Schwimmer. "Cable companies have not yet realized fully that in order to serve the Hispanic audience you have to do more than deliver them a package of Spanish-language programming."
Bilingual network LATV, which launched in 2001, has taken a different distribution approach. In April, the network converted from being a local broadcaster into a national broadcaster via digital satellite multicast.
"After pursuing distribution on satellite and cable it became very apparent to us that in order to get the kind of distribution that was necessary to have a viable network we were going to have to find a better way to reach more people," said Danny Crowe, LATV's president and co-founder.
Earlier this year, LATV was able to attract Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. as an investor and affiliate partner. The deal means LATV can now be seen in prime Hispanic markets, including Miami, Houston and San Antonio.
According to Mr. Crowe, the network has gone from 3 million homes to 8.4 million households in the last six months.
Mr. Crowe is betting on the pending switch from analog to digital airwaves in 2009 to expand its reach even further.
LATV is also looking to build its brand by offering interactive choices for its young viewers. During the network's daily show "LATV Live," viewers can call in or send text messages to the program's three young hosts.
Despite the networks' distribution growth, they still have a ways to go. Combined, the three currently reach less than half of the nation's 110 million households with television.
Still, in the next five years some industry observers predict a steady growth in television programming aimed at young Hispanics by both small networks and the general market players.
"You'll start to see more and more broadcast mainstream media starting to experiment with bicultural stuff," says Mr. Pels. "We're blurring the line by what we're doing."
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