Discovery, Nickelodeon offer more than soap operas to Hispanic viewers

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Telenovelas or deportes? Neither, says Luis Silberwasser, a Colombia native and senior VP of Discovery Communications' newly formed U.S. Hispanic Networks. If you're a Hispanic living in the U.S., those two genres compose the bulk of your TV options-and he hopes to change that. On June 17, Discovery will launch two Spanish-language networks, Discovery Kids en Español and Discovery Viajar y Vivir (Travel & Living).

"We're making a big commitment to this market," says Silberwasser, based out of Miami. "Traditionally, people think you need to give Hispanics telenovelas and sports, and that's not the case. We've demonstrated that in Latin America where there's a demand for our networks." (Discovery International operates networks in 46 countries.) Plus, he adds, "for the market to grow you need better content."

In 1998 Discovery was one of the early cable entries into the Hispanic market, launching digital channel Discovery en Español. In the past few years that number has grown-Nielsen Media Research now measures 35 Spanish-language networks-but digital cable penetration in Hispanic households is still fairly low at 16%, compared to 25% in general market U.S. homes, according to Tapestry, the multicultural arm of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest.

Launching those channels now is an investment in the future says Elena Marroquin, Tapestry's VP-director of strategy. By 2010, it's predicted that all cable access in the U.S. will be digital. And while the satellite providers have led the way with their carriage of Hispanic packages as early as the late `90s, cable operators are beginning to grow their business by rolling out digital Spanish-language tiers. Disney's ESPN/ABC Sports, Scripps Networks, NBC Universal and Time Warner's CNN all offer digital Hispanic channels.


And one basic cable channel is finding success with programming that appeals to both mainstream and Hispanic audiences. Viacom's Nickelodeon has attracted a multicultural audience with its popular "Dora the Explorer" and will sell during this year's upfront a new series, "Go Diego Go!," starring Dora's eight-year-old cousin Diego. Nickelodeon reports that its Hispanic audience for the bilingual Dora is closely in line with the U.S. Census Hispanic numbers at 9%.

"We need to make sure that what goes on our air is reflective of what we look like today," says Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom's Nickelodeon. She points to other Nick properties "Little Bill," based on Bill Cosby's children's book series, and "Romeo," which is its No. 1 show with African American audiences, as multicultural successes.

The two Discovery networks will feature programming from its Latin American networks and what Silberwasser calls "trans-created programming from Discovery's Anglo networks"-dubbed shows from Animal Planet and other Discovery properties. He predicts Viajar y Vivir will skew female, culling much of its inventory from Discovery's Latin American travel and living channel, which launched Jan. 1. The kids network will offer educational preschool blocks, `tween programming and family friendly evening programming. Both, along with a VOD component, launch in June and will be distributed by Discovery U.S.'s affiliate sales and marketing team.

Nickelodeon has already racked up more than $3 billion in retail sales of Dora merchandise and 85,000 people attended a recent "Dora Live" show at Radio City Music Hall. A current off-channel traveling Dora promotion, in which "La Casa de Dora" visited 10 U.S. malls with high numbers of Hispanic shoppers, attracted such blue chip marketers as Dodge, General Mills and Procter & Gamble Co.

Not so fast

Digital cable penetration is still fairly low at 16%, compared to 25% in the general market

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