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Latin Lessons

Last week's Hispanic Television Summit, sponsored by B&C and our sister publication Multichannel News, was a spirited affair. In its six years of existence, the hotly debated subjects haven't always changed, but the answers are starting to, and that's good news for Hispanic programmers and their audience.

Hispanic networks have always complained that they are the forgotten media buy, but that was a larger lament before than it is now. Latin TV has become an integral part of the buying mix. It's not getting equal footing with Anglo channels, but its competitive edge gets sharper as the influence of Hispanic consumers spreads from large urban cities to communities all over the United States. Being part of the big picture helps Hispanic networks, since Nielsen added them to the regular ratings reporting mix. In city after city, it's hard to ignore the huge numbers Univision gets among young viewers, and harder still to ignore the fact that young adults are the biggest pocket of Hispanic viewers out there.

Time Warner Cable programming chief Melinda Witmer spelled out to the audience how crucial Hispanics are to her company's future: Time Warner Cable passes 47% of the nation's Latino households, including two big markets in New York and Los Angeles. That's also why Time Warner began offering a cable package that carries more than 50 Spanish-language channels.

Comcast, the largest cable network, took 10 Hispanic channels off a Spanish-language tier and added them to the basic lineup not long ago in Miami. (Frankly, we wonder what took them so long.) Phillip Woodie, director of multicultural sales for Comcast Spotlight, the division that sells local advertising, says the cable operator will move more channels to basic in other heavily Hispanic markets, including Houston, Chicago and San Francisco.

At conferences like the Hispanic Summit—there's more coverage of it on our Website,—few audience members needed reminders that not all Hispanic viewers fit the same demographic profile. But there were even some arguments about that. Cristina Mella, editor of the Spanish-language magazine Casa y Hogar, said she was tired of seeing Hispanic television about women that was set in Central or South America, rather than centering on Latinas in the United States. But others on the panel pointed out that the most popular programs are imported telenovelas. And besides, some panelists pointed out, even if Hispanics are emerging as an advertising power, it is still mighty expensive to produce programming in the U.S. compared to other countries south of the border.

We didn't hear much about why the established Anglo networks aren't more aggressive about presenting a broader menu of comedies or drama that reflect the not-quite-melting-pot nature of the Hispanic immigration pattern. It's not totally for lack of trying. Networks are trying to broaden their palettes. Ugly Betty, Mind of Mencia, and Nickelodeon's longer history with shows like Dora the Explorer and The Brothers Garcia, to name some prominent examples, are proof of that. But white remains the dominant color on television, obscuring a demographic shift reflected almost everywhere else.

Hispanic entrepreneurs, meanwhile, seem well on their way toward doing what good business people always do: recognize a need, and fill it.