LATINO LIFESTYLE MISSING FROM ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FARE; UNTAPPED GOLD MINE: IN FILM AND MUSIC INDUSTRIES, THERE HAVE BEEN ADVANCES, BUT TV INTEREST LAGS

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There isn't much choice at the moment for bilingual young U.S. Latinos who want to see their lifestyles and culture reflected in English-language network and cable TV programming.

But that may change if certain TV stations and one start-up cable TV network are successful in convincing their advertisers and other backers that the time has come for more English-language programming geared toward teens and young adults that feature Latino lifestyles, fashion, music interests and comedy.

AGE SKEWS YOUNG

According to Strategy Research Corp., the median age among the 32.4 million U.S. Hispanics is 24.8 years and 34.4% are younger than 18 years old. Since 1950, Hispanics have accounted for nearly 25% of the total U.S. population growth. Yet, media vehicles catering to the tastes and interests of this diverse consumer group are few compared with general market offerings.

Latino production company Si TV hopes to fill the dearth. It announced plans in March to launch the first 24-hour cable TV network featuring Latino entertainment in English. The enterprise is still seeking additional funding and distribution on cable outlets, but marketers are said to be showing interest in its initial programming.

Top advertisers in the fast food and beer categories as well as a major retailer are close to signing deals to become charter advertisers when the network launches next year, says Si TV Co-Chairman Jeff Valdez.

"Advertisers are starting to notice the impact of the growing marketplace of young bilingual Hispanics in the music industry, and also in the film industry where Hispanics are the fastest-growing market," says Mr. Valdez, "but you still don't see it reflected on general-market TV."

UNIVISION NO. 1

Univision continues to rank No. 1 in terms of viewershipÁparticularly among Spanish-dominant Hispanics who favor its novelas and family-style programming. Telemundo has been tinkering with programs for its prime-time line-up since acquisition by Sony.

Last year Spanish-language cable network Galavision began offering English-language programming to appeal to bilingual Hispanics aged 25 to 54. Another cable network, Gems, targets Hispanic women 18 and older.

TRYING NEW CONCEPTS

Si TV has been working to prove the appeal of its product by creating several new concepts and generating a handful of one-hour specials that have been well-received by the entertainment industry and local TV stations using the programs in syndication. Examples include an entertainment talk show called "Cafe Ol‚ with Giselle Fernandez" and a showcase for Latino comedians called "Funny is Funny!" Both have been airing since last fall on individual local general market affiliates and stations as well as Galavision. New episodes will air this fall.

Si TV has also sold concepts for three half-hour pilots still in development to CBS-TV, the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, including live-action and animated shows featuring Latino characters.

Chicago's UPN affiliate, WPWR-TV, plans to broadcast the newest one-hour episode of "Funny is Funny!" in prime time on Sept. 18, and the station expects to get a diverse audience for the program, says Tom Feie, director of WPWR's corporate programming.

SLOW TO CATCH ON

"It's obvious there's a lot of interest in Latino-themed entertainment in music and movies, but TV has been slow to respond. There hasn't been a lot of programming to choose from," Mr. Feie says. He adds that Latinos are rarely featured in most network TV sitcoms, which is not an accurate representation of Latinos' growing role in U.S. culture.

"Watching a show like [NBC-TV's] 'Friends,' you're not seeing the actual diversity of people who live in New York. We hope to air more programs featuring Latinos and other groups in the next few years," Mr. Feie says.

PREFERENCE FOR ENGLISH

Hispanic TV programming experts say that although networks Univision and Telemundo have been very successful broadcasting entertainment in Spanish, there are indications that young Latinos tend to prefer English-language programming over Spanish.

"We're finding in our own focus groups that although older Hispanics still want to see entertainment in Spanish, teenagers and young adults are opting English," says Cecilia Domeyko, president of Accent Media, McLean, Va.

Local TV stations say there is a growing appetite for English-language Latino-centered programming, but there is also a growing controversy over language issues and how Spanish-language TV stations' audiences are measured by Nielsen Media Research.

QUALITY THE KEY

The key to Si TV's success will be the quality of its programming, not the fact that it broadcasts in English, says Ernest Bromley, chairman-CEO of Bromley, Aguilar & Associates, San Antonio, Tex.

"Good programming pulls in viewers, and since so many people are bilingual, it won't matter so much what language the program is in as long as it's compelling and reflects Latinos' lifestyles and their sense of humor," Mr. Bromley says. "So far, Si TV has done well with pilot programs in Los Angeles and there's every reason to believe they'll succeed if they maintain a high level of quality in these new shows."

CLAIMS AUDIENCE UNDERSTATED

In Miami, one of the leading local stations, WSVN-TV, opted out of Nielsen's measurement system in June because executives said they believe its audience was understated compared to the city's Spanish-language stations.

Station Manager Robert Leider says WSVN has been unhappy with Nielsen's measurement of Miami since 1994 when the Nielsen Hispanic Station Index was introduced and meters were placed in a disproportionate number of Spanish-dominant households. As a result, Mr. Leider says he believes Nielsen's measurement does not accurately reveal thousands of bilingual households that are a major component of the audience of the English-broadcasting WSVN.

WEIGHTING CHANGED

Nielsen counters that its measurement system is fair, but it's agreed to change the weighting of its audience sample to include more bilingual households. So far, WSVN has not rejoined Nielsen's survey.

"Nielsen's system tends to see the market as English vs. Spanish, but the reality is that this market is increasingly bilingual and it should be measured from that perspective," Mr. Leider says.

He says WSVN's programming reflects its Latino audience by broadcasting daily more than seven hours of local news and also by producing a one-hour show each day called "Deco Drive" featuring the lifestyles and personalities of Miami's Latino community.

"Our graphics, our style and our content is heavily oriented toward Latinos -- in English -- and that's where we think the future is as more second- and third-generation Hispanics lean toward English in entertainment programming," Mr. Leider says.

Controversy over language also has haunted Si TV's efforts to get support, Mr. Valdez admits.

"When we first began talking about Si TV, we visited Hispanic advertising agencies that said they couldn't work with us because we were broadcasting in English, but we're starting to convince more of them that there's another area [of bilingual consumers] they're not capturing," he says.

ALL NEW AREAS

One potential result of Si TV is that it could tap entirely new bilingual audiences, says Hernand Gonzalez, VP-marketing services for Chicago-based marketing and promotions agency Cardenas/Fernandez & Associates.

"We tend to talk mostly about Spanish-speaking households when targeting Latinos, but the number of bilingual households that could be an audience for English-language programs is actually unknown. The Hispanics of the new millennium will be speaking English more often, and this is the new group we see as a huge untapped audience," Mr. Gonzalez says.

ROOM FOR BOTH

There is room for both English-language and Spanish-language programming, because the market is growing so fast, says Ms. Domeyko of Accent Media.

"The Latino market in the U.S. is like a country within a country, and although some portions of the group will always prefer Spanish, the future for English-speaking Latinos is huge," Ms. Domeyko says. "Most of all, this audience wants to see Latino faces, culture and customs on TV, and this is finally starting to

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