Latino Kids Net Fills Market Hole

A new Spanish-language cable network for kids is hoping to catch the fast-growing—and underserved—segment of the U.S. Hispanic population. ¡Sorpresa!, which translates to "surprise," was slated to debut on a few cable systems last Saturday with Spanish-language live-action and animation shows aimed at Hispanic kids and tweens. The question, though, is whether Hispanic kids will tune in.

"There is very little high-quality programming for U.S. Latinos in their language," said network President Michael Fletcher. "We're bringing Spanish-language, in-culture programming to the market, as opposed to dubbed programming."

Sorpresa debuted with a six-hour block of programming, mostly acquisitions from Latin America and Spain, and will expand the block in coming months. Sorpresa doesn't have plans to make original shows just yet.

The channel is run by Firestone Communications, helmed by Chairman Leonard Firestone. Earlier this year, the company acquired the assets of defunct cable network Hispanic Television Network and, in just two months, relaunched it under the new brand.

HTVN's assets included carriage deals already in place with Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and the National Cable Television Cooperative, which will offer Sorpresa on digital basic or a Spanish tier. At launch, Sorpresa will reach about 400,000 subscribers.

But the Hispanic kids market may be tricky to navigate. The general market includes the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, plus a half-dozen digital channels. Sorpresa is the first dedicated Spanish-language cable net.

"There is a hole in the market from an outsider perspective," says Danielle Gonzales, direct of investment for Tapestry, Starcom's multicultural buying arm. "But Hispanic kids tend to watch the same programs as general-market kids."

U.S. Hispanics watch significantly more TV than the general U.S. television market, according to an Initiative study. Following that trend, industry executives say, Hispanic kids also spend more time in front of the TV than their general-market peers.