The Biz: SiTV reaches out to young Hispanics

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On SiTV, the English-language Hispanic cable network launching this week, it's reality TV Latin style. In "Urban Jungle," for instance, nine privileged Anglo kids will be dropped off in an inner city Los Angeles barrio and scramble to survive on the tough streets, without even a cellphone, to win $50,000.

"They'll have jobs like making tamales to sell from a cart, selling oranges on a corner, and taking buses and transferring four times to clean someone's house," said Jeff Valdez, SiTV's founder and co-chairman. Mr. Valdez, who started as a stand-up comic and is best known as a creator of "The Garcia Brothers" series on Nickelodeon, has spent years making SiTV a reality, based on the simple insight that Latins want to see themselves in English-language programs.

SiTV is an ambitious attempt to reach one of the most elusive targets, young acculturated Hispanics who are often not regular consumers of Spanish-language media. They may not even speak Spanish.

As the U.S.-born Hispanic population now nears the number of recent immigrants, this is a young and fast-growing demographic. "They're in a niche that is getting more and more attention from agencies and advertisers," said Jorge Pecovich, exec VP-managing director of Havas-owned media specialist MPG Diversity. "There's not a lot of English-language or bilingual programming targeting Hispanics."

timing a problem

Mr. Pecovich said SiTV has initial distribution of about 8 million homes, increasing to about 10 million by year end, but it won't be measured by Nielsen until late 2004 or early 2005. "The only problem I see is timing," he said. "A lot of advertisers have already committed their dollars. When we were in the planning process, there wasn't a lot to see."

SiTV said it's already signed up General Motors Corp., Sears, Roebuck & Co., the U.S. Army, Sony Music and Wal-Mart. Besides "Urban Jungle," which will air in April, programming includes the "Latino Laugh Festival," a music video program called "The Drop" and a talk show about relationships called "The Rub."

the hispanic oprah

One of the biggest stars of Spanish-language media, Cristina Saralegui, is also eyeing the English-speaking Hispanic niche. Ms. Saralegui is the Hispanic Oprah, a Cuban immigrant who has a top-rated talk show called "The Cristina Show" on Univision and her own radio show. Her monthly magazine, Cristina La Revista, has a circulation of 160,000. After guest starring on ABC's "George Lopez" sitcom as George's stepmother, Ms. Saralegui and her manager husband Marcos Avila signed a one-year development deal with Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Television to deliver a half-hour English-language sitcom based on her life in late 2004.

In Los Angeles, LATV has been targeting young bilingual and English-speaking Latinos in 3 million cable homes for three years and now plans to go national, said Daniel Crowe, LATV's president. His advertisers include Volkswagen, Ford Motor Co., Target, McDonald's Corp. and KFC.

He is talking with cable and satellite networks like Comcast, Time Warner and Direct TV about taking LATV national this year, he said.

Nielsen groups Hispanics into three buckets, with 50% Spanish dominant, 20% bilingual, and 30% English dominant, said Monica Gadsby, managing director of Publicis Groupe's Tapestry. She said she thinks the bilingual segment is bigger than 20%, a good sign for SiTV.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that their footprint generates numbers visible to the advertising community," she said.

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