Looking Back With Pride

History en Español plans a big month

The History Channel en Español lives for Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. There could hardly be a better showcase for the channel, and the Spanish-language network hopes to shine.

When Español signed on in June 2004, there wasn’t much time to get ready for Heritage Month, but Marlene Braga, director of programming and production, has loaded up this year. She has even thrown in a little star power: Grammy Award-winning recording artist Alejandro Fernandez hosts four-hour miniseries History of Mexico, one of the centerpieces of the channel’s month-long salute, and other programs.

Also during the month, History en Español profiles such figures as guitarist Carlos Santana, artist Frida Kahlo, and revolutionary leaders Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

The History Channel en Español is fairly thinly viewed; It’s available in “systems that represent” just 20 million homes, according to a spokeswoman, meaning that it’s on DBS or cable systems that have Hispanic tiers. At this point, it produces little of its own programming; most of it is repurposed from sister networks A&E, The Biography Channel and, of course, the History Channel itself. The channel also has a Venezuelan partner, Olé, that helps with programming.

“What I am experiencing when we have focus groups is the delight viewers have that this channel exists,” says Braga, born in Miami to Cuban parents, and formerly a field producer for ABC News. “They’re so excited to have this kind of product.” The typical viewer, she says, lives in a multilingual household where Spanish is still the dominant language. But, she says, many of the younger viewers speak fluent English and turn to History en Español mainly because they want to get in touch with their roots.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, the channel will try to increase its presence on cable systems by tagging its biographical programming “Mi Familia, Mi Historia” (or “My Family, My History”). Connected to that, in 17 markets, it will offer viewers a chance to win a 5-by-7 family portrait from JC Penney if they sign up for the Hispanic tier that offers History en Español. “This channel is all about family, culture and history,” says Walter Oden, VP of distribution and business development, who is coordinating the affiliate promotion. “The family portrait seemed to be a natural.”

Christine Schraml, an executive at Lifetouch Portrait Studios, which operates the department store’s photo business, says the portrait is a $49.95 value. If it gets several thousand Hispanic viewers to sign up for cable or DBS Hispanic tiers, it will be worth a lot more than that to Braga and cable operators.