Latino TV in Development

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Population shifts in the United States have accelerated growth in Hispanic television programming, viewership, and advertising. But the economics of content development and distribution have limited Latino TV to a niche player's role in a landscape dominated by titans.

That's about to change. As technological advances shrink the globe and increase access to Latinos-who now number 300 million in North and South America-the industry's newest megaplayers could be those developing and delivering programs to Hispanic audiences worldwide, rather than to separate U.S. and non-U.S. marketplaces.

"It's a vast hemispheric market in which programming can move around freely," said David Jensen, vice president of Liberty Media, during a panel discussion among Hispanic TV industry executives at the recent National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference in New Orleans.

Already, financing for content development is drawing on a transnational business model. "If you're not thinking pan-regional, you can't make it work," said Nely Galan, entertainment president of Telemundo, the second-largest Hispanic broadcast television network. Galan admitted she needs Latin American revenue to generate U.S. programming.

Targeting the younger, bicultural Hispanic and educating the mainstream advertising community about the power of the Latino market were the two themes panelists emphasized during the NATPE conference in January.

There are currently some 31 million Latinos in the United States, with combined purchasing power of $370 billion, noted Alex Nogales, board member of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and moderator of the panel. And the market is growing.

"The disposable income of U.S. Hispanics goes up $6 million every six months," added Liberty's Jensen. Last August, Liberty launched a Spanish- language cable and satellite service to tap into that expanding market, and the company believes it will have one to two million subscribers within five years.

While Liberty is going after Latinos whose primary language is Spanish, other companies are targeting a younger demographic that may not speak the mother tongue. SiTV, a production company that creates Latino-themed shows that are mostly in English, has created programming for the Spanish language cable station Galavision, as well as Nickelodeon.

Galan said Telemundo, which competes with the older, larger, and more established Univision is chasing a younger demographic. "Spanish-language television has gone after my mom. The median age of a U.S. Latino is 27, but young Latinos are not being targeted. We want to do what Fox and UPN did-but in an organic fashion." Language, said Galan, should be used situationally, to reflect how real Hispanics live. "At work, a character would speak to his boss in English, at home, speak to his family in Spanish, and later think about his boss in Spanish," Galan said.

Two panelists involved in the Latin American television market, Ken Bettsteller, president of satellite distribution for the Fox Group, and Leo Perez, who manages the Latin American cable networks group of Columbia TriStar, noted that there are tremendous opportunities for U.S.-produced television in Latin America as well as the United States. Perez said that MTV Latin America-the first cable network to offer 24-hour English language programming with subtitles-has caught on with upscale Latin Americans. "We're talking about selling a culture. The Nanny does extremely well in Latin America," said Perez. "People want to see the U.S. lifestyle-now let's start getting Latinos in [the programming]."

In fact, media companies may be poised to exploit the Latino market, but advertisers are still dilly-dallying. Speaking of ad rates, Valdez said: "It's a nickel on a dollar in Spanish-language media. We need to grow the pie." Galan estimated that expenditures on Latino television advertising in the U.S. were about $700 million in 1998. That's less than 2 percent of all television expenditures, while Hispanic viewers comprise 11 percent of all television viewers.

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