LATV's Strategic Shift

Hip Hispanic digital channel moving to more Spanish-language shows

While LATV has long billed itself as a “bilingual” entertainment channel for Hispanics 18-34, the digital channel is subtly moving away from its English-Spanish background to focus primarily on Spanish-language programming.

This week represents LATV's second full year as a national network, and also marks the beginning of a new season of programming, which includes the debut of a pair of Colombian programs for its 35 affiliates.

The move to more Spanish-language shows is simply a matter of better ratings, says LATV President Danny Crowe, who points out that 15 of the nation's top 100 programs are in Spanish. “What we've found is that we're consistently getting a larger audience with mostly Spanish-language programming,” he says.

Crowe says the shift has been ongoing and gradual, and he's not heard a single negative viewer comment about it. Some media buyers think it's a smart play. Jeanette Millan, activation director at MV42°, part of SMG Multicultural, says it's a way for LATV to stand out amidst a growing pool of “bilingual” channels, such as Mun2 and MTV Tr3s, which caters to young Hispanics. “There's a lot of competition in the marketplace among the bilingual networks,” she says. “This makes LATV more marketable.”

Cambios pequeños

LATV is also conducting an equally subtle tweak to its branding. When it hatched as a local Los Angeles channel in 2001, the LATV moniker made abundant sense. But two years since it went national, moving into markets such as New York, Dallas and Miami, LATV is playing down its “LA” branding (though the network has said it stands for “Latino Alternative” as much as it does “Los Angeles”). The network's on-air talent and brain trust alike will start calling it “La TV”—Spanish for “The TV”—which the LATV executives say many viewers already do. They'll also start working in a space between LA and TV in the branding.

The programs debuting this week are Nadie es Eterno en el Mundo (No One in This World Lives Forever), which LATV describes as “a music-driven drama series”; and Munoz Vale x 2 (One Munoz Is Worth Two), a comedy. Both hail from Colombia; LATV will not debut its own original programming this spring, though the network's executives say producing originals remains part of the game plan.

“It's very important that we develop co-productions and own our content,” says Luca Bentivoglio, who was just bumped up to COO from VP of programming. “But it requires a lot of analysis and finding the right partners, and we need to take our time on that.”

The spring debutants join the likes of movie blocks, an evening talker, wrestling and loads of music programming, such as Texty Beat! and En La Zona.

The network, which Bentivoglio sees as a “younger, smart, edgy alternative” to Univision and Telemundo, is hard at work to bring more affiliates on board. Backed in part by Post-Newsweek Stations (and airing on that group's stations in Houston, San Antonio and Miami, among others), LATV is in 35 markets. It recently launched on the digital tiers of Univision affiliates WUNI Boston and WUVN Hartford; other partners include Tribune's WPIX New York, Cox's KTVU Oakland and Landmark's KLAS Las Vegas.

Affiliate Sales VP Starrett Berry says a number of other deals are in the works, and the analog shutdown June 12 will bring on a batch of new partners, too. “We may not have the physical number of affiliates others may have, but the quality of our markets is spectacular,” he says.

All grown up

Reaching 40 million homes, LATV is something of a village elder in terms of digital channels. The competition includes the Spanish-language channel Mexicanal, along with vintage programs and films on RTN and This TV, sports on Untamed and Universal Sports, and the new lifestyle channel Live Well HD that launched on the ABC-owned stations last week.

LATV brass say they've got a head start on the competition, and look to elbow their way into the adult's table later in year three by getting rated by Nielsen for the first time. “We're on track to be rated as a national network by the fourth quarter,” Crowe says.

Everyone in the TV business is taking some recessionary lumps, but Crowe says LATV remains in growth mode, even if it's more modest growth than he might've planned. MV42°'s Millan says media buyers are taking note of LATV's progress. “The network has grown a lot in the past year,” she says. “It's great for the Hispanic marketplace.”

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