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Hispanic TV Update: Q&A With Luca Bentivoglio

Much has changed in the Spanish-language TV landscape since the early 1980s, when Luca Bentivoglio, working at WJNU in New Jersey, helped launch a relatively unknown Puerto Rican band named Menudo, which went on to become one of Latin America’s biggest pop phenomena’s.

Today, as vice president of programming for LATV, Bentivoglio is still scouting talent to put on TV, but this time for a network targeting the elusive, English-dominant Hispanic youth. As the Los Angeles-based network premiered two shows this week, Bentivoglio spoke to Hispanic TV Update about the challenges of programming for young, Hispanic audiences. An edited transcript follows:

Q: LATV this week premiered two new shows. What are they and how did they come about?
A: On July 14 we premiered The List, a one-hour music video show that lets viewers choose the videos they want to see. We are doing this as nationally as possible; using our different affiliates -- we’re doing Los Angeles, Miami and New York. The other show is Mi Beat, which is also a music show and it’s basically the refreshed summer version of Videos por favor, a one-hour show running Monday through Friday. But also this month [July 7], we incorporated Yolanda Pérez as host of Mex2theMax, our signature show. This is very important for us, because Yolanda is a very well known Mexican regional artist in Los Angeles.

Q: Having worked for both Univision and Telemundo in the past, what would you say is the most challenging part of programming TV for Latinos?
A: Well, it is a huge challenge, because from the days when I was producing all programming for Univision and Telemundo some years have passed and the competition has really grown. When I was at Univision, there was pretty much just one competitor: Telemundo. Galavision was a cable channel, and it was owned by the same company. Today you have over 75 channels targeting Hispanics; so you can see the audience is all over the place. Of course Univision is still pretty solid with the Spanish-dominant. The challenge now is how to get an audience for a start up, in an environment that is difficult.

Q: Looking at LATV’s programming, it seems that music is one way to reach this audience, right?
A: Well, music is very important to us. LATV is well known for its support of up and coming artists. Here, at the station, we’ve had Juanes, Julieta Venegas, Café Tacuba, Calle 13 and Soraya, for example, before they went on to be very big. But we also know that we have to complement the music with other types of programming, such as comedy and variety.

Q: Earlier this year, LATV launched Wáchale, a weekly show that basically makes fun of Spanish-language TV. How is that doing?

The idea is sort of an organic one within a group of young people like our audience. There is always this irreverent approach to everything that is traditional. Spanish-language TV for these people – even for me, and I worked in it all my life -- is something to be irreverent about. So we said ‘why not take that feeling, that sentiment and transform it into a show in which we make fun of Spanish-language TV?’ There is a wealth of programs that you can make fun of. And when you go local, it’s even worse. We have a very funny host [Humberto] who makes a connection with the crowd and they make fun of everything.

Q: Considering a lot of the marketers actually buy advertising in those programs, what has been the feedback so far?
A: Well, I am not into sales but I know from the sales people that marketers sometimes feel the same way, especially the young ones. They know that they will be buying [Univision’s] Don Francisco or Laura en América for years, but when they see a sort of rebellious approach to it they relate to it. I think advertisers like the concept. Even McDonald’s recently did a promotional segment inside Wáchale.

Q: I read in your resumé that, while at Telemundo, you helped the network increase ratings by 100%. How can you do that in a fledgling network such as LATV?
A: You have to be extremely creative and you have to have a team of talented people. In our case, these people have to have the best combination of both worlds, the U.S. and Latin America. I don’t think the Latino market goes one way only. You also need a lot of work and find the Wáchales of the world. That is what will make us different from the rest; to find ideas that are unique and that we can execute and that stand out in the space. People don’t watch networks. People watch programs.