Local Channel, National Reach?

Eager to tap into the Hispanic market, stations are thinking up innovative ways to grab Latino viewers. Independent KJLA Los Angeles, for one, is looking to morph a block of bilingual, youthful programming into a 24/7 network to be broadcast on stations’ secondary digital channels across the country.

The service, Latino Alternative TV (LATV), launched four years ago in the L.A. market as a prime time batch of original entertainment and music shows aimed at 12- to 34-year-olds, filling what KJLA General Manager Francis Wilkinson describes as a void in programming. Programs on English-language networks, he says, do not reflect this demo’s lives, and the novelas and variety shows on Univision and Telemundo are aimed at older Hispanics. “No one was talking to them or providing them [with] contemporary programming,” Wilkinson says.

So LATV began producing programs in its small West L.A. studio and at clubs around town. Along with live concerts, it airs interactive video show Play List and entertainment newsmagazine LATV Does Hollywood. Through over-the-air, cable and satellite deals, it is piped into more than 3 million homes.

But LATV is seeking a much bigger audience. “From the beginning, this was designed to have national appeal,” says Wilkinson.

The service is the latest in a growing roster of secondary channels. As stations upgrade to digital technology, they have increased capacity to carry multiple programming feeds. Early efforts to mine the space have produced weather channels, such as NBC’s Weather Plus, local news channels and music-video channels, like The Tube.

LATV aims to secure distribution in at least the top 25 Hispanic markets. That task falls to Multicast Network Group (MNG), headed by local TV veterans Mike Ruggiero and Jon Finley. The company helped get carriage for The Tube, now carried on Raycom Media, Tribune and Sinclair Broadcast stations, and is also peddling an auto-themed network with Motor Trend magazine.

Ruggiero and Finley are constantly hunting for new networks with wide appeal. Spanish-language, music and sports channels fit the bill, they say. “We want to offer new opportunities for broadcasters to reach viewers and advertisers,” says Ruggiero. “This can create new revenue streams broadcasters desperately need.”

MNG plans to distribute LATV much the same as The Tube or Motor Trend TV: signing deals with station groups and, where possible, using retransmission-consent negotiations to secure carriage on digital cable. LATV’s programming would run on one national feed with a 24/7 wheel, and affiliates could insert local ads and programs.

Stations will not have to pay for programming and will get five minutes an hour for their own ads. So far, no deals have been done, but talks are heating up with several groups, Finley says, declining to name them.

“People understand this is an important demo,” he says. “And this is developed by broadcasters.”

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