Sí TV Celebrates a Year of Speaking English

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Almost exactly one year after launching the first and so far only English-language Hispanic cable network, Jeff Valdez, co-founder and chairman of Sí TV, is more confident of success than ever. Despite not being measured by Nielsen yet, Valdez says, Sí TV is quickly signing up advertisers by attracting 18- to 34-year-old viewers, a demo under-served by general-market and Spanish-language networks.

“I always tell people the one award we deserve around here is 'Educator of the Year’ because this is a new genre,” says Valdez. “In the beginning, we were saying, 'How could people not get this?’ Now there is an attitude out there that this is too good to be true. But there is really a market.

“We have great buzz right now,” he adds. “If you focus on the end user, the consumer, you’ll have a great company.”

LOW RISK FOR ADVERTISERS

Valdez has good reason to be upbeat. Sí TV, which launched Feb. 25, 2004, and later secured $60 million from such investors as EchoStar and Time Warner, is building its lineup with such programs as Fox’s failed 2000 futuristic drama from James Cameron, Dark Angel. Its distribution will surpass 9 million homes, thanks to a deal it signed last month for Time Warner Cable to carry it in New York. More significant, perhaps, is that the network is heading into its second upfront having already struck deals with nearly three dozen advertisers, including Burger King and Microsoft’s videogame console, Xbox.

“My job is to find everybody I can in our target market, wherever I can,” says Bill Nielsen, director of Microsoft’s U.S. subsidiary for Xbox. He notes that Hispanic males are avid videogame players. Plus, he suggests, Sí TV is an inexpensive buy: “We’ve jumped on a lot of new trends, and a lot of them have paid off for us. With some of these smaller networks, it’s a bit of a gamble, but the risk from a financial standpoint is not all that great versus the potential return.”

Sí TV’s selling point, according to media buyers, is its mix of recognizable off-network shows, such as PBS’ Latino-based American Family, which aired from 2002 to 2004 and starred Edward James Olmos and Raquel Welch. But it has also gone headfirst into originals, including producer Moctesuma Esparza’s new Circumsized Cinema, a 22-minute program cut from campy Mexican movies. Sí TV is courting younger viewers with shows like Across the Hall, a sitcom with music videos woven into the plot.

“Sí TV has been out for a year now, and they’ve done very well in getting advertisers on the air because they have very good, interesting programs,” says Sofia Escamilla, media director at Los Angeles-based La Agencia de Orci & Asociados.

A TOUGH DEMO TO REACH

Rosa Serrano, senior vice president and group account director of the multicultural division at ad-buying firm Initiative, believes that advertisers need an outlet like Sí TV to reach its hard-to-find demographic. “There has always been a way to reach bilingual Hispanics by buying MTV, 7th Heaven, The Bachelor, Law & Order and other programs with high viewership among Latinos,” she says. “But a channel dedicated to their interests hasn’t been there.”

Media buyers say that void is deepened by the way English-language media portray Hispanics. A Pew Hispanic Center study focusing on news media found last April that 44% of respondents feel that mainstream media add to a negative impression of Hispanics.

Still, most Latinos watch English-language television, reflecting a strong language preference. About 22% of Hispanics speak only English; another 54% speak English well or very well, according to U.S. Census data compiled by Horowitz Associates.

That goes a long way to explain the emergence of Sí TV and similar networks and programs that are either on the air or soon will be. Among them is NBC Universal’s three-year-old Mun2, a bilingual network that targets young Hispanics but contemplates a lineup overhaul.

Syndicator AIM Tell-a-Vision has been in the market for five years and currently has four English-language lifestyle and music programs, including the weekly Urban Latino TV.

Meanwhile, LATV, an MTV-style network airing in Los Angeles, is expected to sign national distribution deals this year.

But perhaps the most awaited English-language Hispanic network launch is for a channel called Voy. It plans to target the 18-49 demographic with lifestyle programming including talk and cooking shows. Voy says it will debut this year.

“We could have launched maybe nine months ago because most multisystem operators offered to have Voy on the Latin tiers,” says Fernando Espuelas, chairman and CEO of the multimedia company. “But we said no. Our consumer is English-dominant, and the growth market is in English.”

WHAT A NICHE

Media buyers say the trend toward more English-language Hispanic networks is one that viewers and advertisers welcome. And while it means competition for Sí TV, Valdez isn’t worried. The market is large enough to support a few such networks, he says.

“Today, 18- to 34-year-olds are of color, and they are influencing the culture,” he says. “We’ll look at markets like Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles where Hispanics are over 50% of the 18- to 34-year-old population and people say, 'That’s an interesting niche.’”

He dismisses that kind of talk: “A Swedish channel would be niche. You can’t be niche if you’re over 50% of the market.”

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