Local Latino Beat Warms Up

Local news — and local weather — are increasingly taking on a Latin flavor on cable. In fact, several such Spanish-language services are getting ready to debut this year.

New York 1 News has set a May 1 launch date for what will be the splashiest rollout, its spinoff of a Spanish-language channel in New York City. The all-news network's moniker will be New York 1 Noticias, according to Steve Paulus, NY1's senior vice president and general manager.

"We've built a pretty good brand in New York City, even within the Hispanic community," Paulus said. "Even if they're Spanish-speaking people, they do know New York 1. The goal is to create a New York 1 in Spanish. And in many ways it will look like New York 1. It will mirror the channel."

NY1's parent, Time Warner Cable, is also reportedly looking to create not only additional Hispanic local-news channels, but also 24-hour Spanish-language local weather channels in several markets, including Milwaukee.

These new ventures will follow in the footsteps of the country's pioneering Spanish-language local-news outlets, namely Mas! Arizona in Phoenix and Bay News 9 en Español in Tampa, Fla. Both those Spanish-language services are spinoffs of English-language local-news networks, namely the Arizona News Channel and Bay News 9.

Mas! Arizona is a partnership of Cox Communications Inc. and Belo Corp., while Time Warner created the Bay News 9 ventures. Advance/Newhouse Communications now owns the Tampa cable system and Bay News 9, both in English and Spanish.

With the Hispanic population exploding in the United States, it's no surprise that media companies such as Cox and Time Warner, which serve large Latino communities, are creating local-news networks for these customers. Cox has done polling, using bilingual telephone reps, in an effort to gauge what kind of TV programming Hispanics are most interested in, according to Nancy Heffernan, the MSO's marketing manager of video services.

"The news category in general, we've determined through our research, is one of the most-viewed types of programming," she said. "News is of high interest to the Latino consumer."

In the Southwest and California, where Cox has clusters, the large Mexican-American population there is eager to hear news from Mexico on topics ranging from the economy to politics, "kind of keeping in touch with their roots," Heffernan said.

NY1 will have a tougher mandate serving Hispanics in the Big Apple because the community is much more diverse than it is in Phoenix or Tampa, with their largely Mexican and Cuban populations, respectively.

In New York City, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans form the two largest Hispanic ethnicities, with the Mexican population growing, according to Paulus. But there are also sizable enclaves of Colombians and Salvadorans.
"Every Hispanic group is represented in New York City," he said. "But our focus is going to be New York City news, so it's relevant to all those groups."

NY1 Noticias will be offered as part of Time Warner's digital package in New York City, and Paulus is expecting it to have roughly 125,000 subscribers by the end of its first year. Right now, Time Warner counts 500,000 digital subscribers in New York, and expects that number to hit 650,000 by the close of 2003.

Customization, repurposing

Paulus is hiring seven new people to work solely on NY1 Noticias, which will also get help from NY1 staffers. In some cases, stories will just be gathered specifically for NY1 Noticias.

New York City officials will sometimes have a Spanish-language news conference after an English-language one. Now, NY1 will stick around and shoot those for the Spanish channel.

In other cases, stories from NY1 will be translated into Spanish for the new network. And in the third instance, NY1 Noticias will complement stories from NY1 by getting additional content for them in Spanish, Paulus said.

In terms of repurposing English content, NY1 is now making an effort to hire bilingual reporters. For example, a new hire, a transit reporter, is of Cuban descent, Paulus said. That reporter, while not fluent enough in Spanish to report full-time for NY1 Noticias, could nonetheless get sound bites from Spanish-speaking city workers for a story on a possible transit strike for the Spanish network, according to Paulus.

"There's a Latin-American hook for practically every story we do," he said, "and if we hire smartly, it's not as hard as it could have been. Becky Spitz is our Manhattan reporter. She's a nice Jewish girl from Manhattan, but she speaks Spanish very well. I know I can send her to a story in El Barrio and she'll come out and do a story for NY1. But she can also get sound bites in Spanish that we can use for Noticias. It's repurposing, but also customization."

Whither weather

Like NY1, NY1 Noticias will incorporate a half-hour news wheel. And Paulus has enlisted Weather Services International, or WSI, to supply Spanish-language local weather reports, just as it does for Bay News 9 en Español in Tampa.

Out of its studios in Boston, WSI expects to be producing weather segments, hosted by Spanish-speaking meteorologists, for NY1 Noticias, said Steve Ward, general manager for WSI's media group.

"Many Spanish-speaking [people] prefer to get emergency information in their native language, in breaking weather crawls," Ward said. "And Time Warner sees this as a large community service as well."

And weather is typically one of the top two or three reasons why people tune in to local news, said Mark Taylor, WSI's director of affiliate relations. That's why it's an important element of a Spanish-language local news service.

In addition to New York City, Time Warner Cable has local news networks in Orlando, Fla., Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., Rochester, N.Y., Albany and Houston. One is set to debut in San Antonio, Texas, this year. Another is reportedly planned for Milwaukee.

Time Warner Cable is now in a quiet period before doing an initial public offering. So it's being closed-mouthed about its future plans regarding Spanish-language local news channels beyond New York City.

"TWC is interested in complementing its news operations with Spanish-language channels, where market demand is strongest," an MSO spokesman said. "Our approach to Spanish-language news is as an adjunct to our English-language news channels in terms of customizing product that has a specific interest among Hispanic viewers."

In 10 markets, 12 if one includes its former systems in Tampa and Orlando, Time Warner has also created 24-hour local weather channels, typically using the name "WeatherNOW."

In addition, the Time Warner spokesman confirmed that the MSO is planning to launch stand-alone Spanish-language local-weather networks in Milwaukee and Rochester, N.Y. Another source, however, maintained those channels are slated for Milwaukee and Austin.

In the case of Milwaukee, the Spanish local-weather network would reportedly debut even before the English local-news network, sources said.

Tampa's in tune

Tampa's Bay News 9 en Español, which debuted in March last year, boasts that it was the first 24-hour local Spanish-language news network. That's because even though Mas! Arizona is older, having launched in September 2000, it carries some sports, as well as home shopping overnight, so is not 100 percent news.

This year Bay News 9 en Español, which only has three full-time staffers dedicated to it, will expand its news wheel to a half hour from its current 15 minutes, according to Elliott Wiser, vice president and general manager for Bay News 9.

"We've accomplished a lot in just one year," he said. "Going to a half-hour wheel is going to be a big step."

Currently, the 15-minute wheel is equally divided between local news, national and international stories [including sports] and weather, according to Wiser. Of the local news, half is original content in Spanish and the rest is repurposed from Bay News 9, with a Spanish voice-over or dubbing.

The market in Tampa seemed ripe for a Spanish-language local-news channel for several reasons. First, Tampa ranks No. 2, behind Miami, in terms of per-capita income for Hispanic households, with $11,057. So it's a middle- and upper-income audience, Wiser said. And despite its large Cuban population, Tampa does not have a local Spanish daily. In addition, the local Univision station only does local news five days a week at 6 p.m.

"This is a large dynamic community with no [TV] news weekends or mornings," Wiser said.

Bay News 9 en Español, available on digital and in 300,000 homes, has local and national sponsors, from lawyers to household goods, according to Wiser.

"When we launched last March, all the sponsorships were sold out," he said. "We are extremely pleased with that aspect of en Español."

NY1 Noticias already has signed up its first advertiser, matress retailer Sleepy's, according to Paulus. He is also approaching NY1's current advertisers, such as Verizon, about the Spanish news network.

"People are dying for a product like this," Paulus said.