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LATV Kicks Off Sophomore Season

A year since introducing its Hispanic-flavored entertainment programming to markets beyond Los Angeles, the digital channel LATV is poised for an even more dramatic second year. LATV airs in 23 markets, and aims to continue siphoning young viewers with a taste for hip programming from Spanish- and English-language broadcasters alike. Currently available in 26 million homes, LATV is shooting for 43 million by next year.

“We've exceeded expectations in terms of how many people we're reaching and both the quality and quantity of our programming,” says LATV President Danny Crowe, “as well as the response from the advertising community.”

LATV holds its first formal upfront presentation May 1 at Ultra NYC in Manhattan, followed by a string of agency presentations throughout the month. Executives say the network is shifting from airing primarily music programming (one popular offering is the performance program Classic en Concierto) to more of a general entertainment network, and will unveil at least four entertainment programs this week that are slated to debut in the fall. LATV will also ramp up the programming on its various platforms, including, mobile and the syndication unit American Latino TV, which it acquired earlier this year.

It was a fairly humble beginning for LATV, which launched at the independent KJLA Los Angeles in 2001 with three hours of programming each day. Not surprisingly, when it set its sights on national distribution last spring, its four original partner stations were in heavily Hispanic markets, including Houston and Miami. These days, with 30 affiliate agreements (it's live in 23 markets and set to launch in seven more), LATV—backed in part by the Post-Newsweek Stations—can be seen in markets as varied as San Francisco (KTVU), Jacksonville (WJXT) and even Twin Falls, Idaho (KXTF).

The key to reaching a wider audience is LATV's “bilingual” approach: A video from the Mexican singer/songwriter Sara Valenzuela might be followed by one from Southern California rocker Gwen Stefani. Hosts freely shift between Spanish and English in mid-sentence. Crowe likens the channel to a top-notch Mexican restaurant that attracts a wide variety of nationalities—Hispanic and other. “Our target demographic is still the 18-34 Hispanic,” he says, “but it's a broader audience than the traditional Spanish-language networks.”

The growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. is nothing short of meteoric. There are 45 million Hispanics in the U.S. today, according to Nielsen 2008 Universe Estimates, and Nielsen says that number will swell to 52 million by 2013. Hispanic buying power is approaching a trillion dollars annually. LATV President/COO Howard Bolter says blue-chip advertisers such as Honda, the U.S. Army, Starbucks and Target, eager to tap this audience, have been spending on LATV.

When all the nation's 1,760 full-power stations commence digital broadcasting by the February 2009 deadline, it'll be a boon for the multicast networks airing in the digital spectrum. But it's an increasingly crowded field. Among others, Retro Television Network (RTN) has signed more than 75 partners since its launch, Weather Plus and AccuWeather have the storm beat covered, and Guardian Enterprises launches its movie channel .2 (pronounced “dot-two”) in July.

LATV is certainly a niche offering, and several consultants and ad agencies contacted for this story said they knew little about the network. But LATV's station partners seem mostly pleased with its early results. (As it's below the 30% distribution threshold, Nielsen does not currently rate LATV outside Los Angeles.) KXTF Station Manager Joe Nielsen says LATV has been off to a slow start, but figures it will find its audience after the digital transition increases its visibility. KSAT San Antonio Creative Services Director David Cuccio says the channel has drawn non-Hispanic viewers (an estimated 40% of its total audience) and local advertising, such as car dealers.

“LATV definitely appeals to the younger demographic that everyone's after,” Cuccio says. “It's fared better than we'd planned—it even surpassed our budget for it.”

Terri McKinzie, Media Director at the multicultural communications company Tapestry, says the network is off to a promising start, though it faces challenges in terms of visibility and stiff competition from the likes of Mun2 and MTV Tr3s for young Hispanic viewers. “LATV has made solid gains in distribution, which, in turn, has started to generate greater awareness and traction with advertisers,” says McKinzie. “[But] the network still has a couple of challenges on the road to becoming a 'contender.'”

The LATV principals believe the network's sophomore year will also exceed expectations; Bolter says they're poised to announce a “huge” distribution agreement that will further expand the LATV reach. “That will set our second year in motion,” he says, “and nobody will be able to ignore us anymore.”

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