"There are so many different cultural nuances down here," Noah said. "We didn't relate to the general way urban culture was portrayed in the media we saw."
It wasn't until years later, though, that Noah and his brother had the opportunity to fill that gap they saw in popular culture with Barrio 305 -- a website that serves both as a social network for the diverse urban Latin scene and a platform for their original lifestyle programming.
From media company to ad agency
The idea came to them several years back when the two began documenting "Hot Import Nights" cars shows from Miami to New York. It was there they discovered the thriving culture of custom cars, flashy women and urban Latin music that became the touchstones of Barrio 305 and the basis for a media company -- a media company that is becoming an ad agency too, with Falken Tire Corp. having just asked the brothers to create its new ad campaign.
Now part of Otalvaro Media, Barrio 305 is positioned at the center of the white-hot reggaeton movement -- a mix of dance-hall reggae, hip-hop, salsa, merengue, cumbia and other Caribbean beats fused together, and popularized by musicians such as Daddy Yankee. (If you search for "reggaeton" on Google Video today, nearly every hit displayed on the first results page is from Barrio 305's network.)
They've just launched a photo- and video-sharing site that serves as a bridge between their niche -- a niche that represents the fastest-growing segment of the population, mind you -- and the Flickrs and YouTubes of the world. And Barrio 305 now has its own channel on the Sprint PowerVision en Vivo network through the MobiTV wireless mobile network.
Smaller but more nimble
The Otalvaros represent an emerging segment of media companies and video producers benefiting from newly affordable production technology and the infinite reach of the web. Armed with a real confidence in and familiarity with their subject matter, they can target highly specialized interest groups to a degree that behemoths like MTV can't quite match.
Barrio 305 is the realization of the "prosumer economy" -- a term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in 1980 to describe consumers exploiting their access to technology and information to take the reigns of production.
Noah and Antonio, however, represent the more professional side of the prosumer spectrum. Noah, along with his father Carlos and brother Francisco -- who now helps finance Otalvaro Media -- has run an online brokerage, WallStreet-E, for eight years. Antonio, meanwhile, has worked as an illustrator and assistant at agencies McCann Erickson and DMB&B. He went on to work at Fabrica for Olivier Toscani, who created the controversial Benetton campaigns of the '90s, and later became creative editor on Benetton's Colors magazine.
Still no YouTube
Barrio 305 is still no YouTube -- which streams hundreds of millions of videos a month -- but the site has recorded 1.5 million streams since it launched in January. About 400,000 of those occurred on Google Video, where about 10,000 users chose to download the videos they watched.
And like a growing number of startup producers, the Otalvaros are using a partnership with broadband-video player Brightcove to get their programming out across the web. Thanks to Brightcove, visitors to barrio305.com can cut and paste code from the site to their MySpace pages or blogs. Brightcove also includes advertising from its own ad network.
Such programming, which is beginning to syndicate itself throughout the internet, is important to young people who want to associate their online personas with Barrio's programming.
"Just like kids shop for a brand of sneakers, now they're looking for tools and content to represent them online and other on platforms," Antonio Otalvaro said.
More than any of their projects, the brothers are most excited about the video-editing tools that will soon be added to Barrio 305's video-sharing community. Highly intuitive, they give the least experienced consumer the tools to achieve prosumer status. Predicts Noah: "That's really going to be the killer app."