Niche Plays

Hispanics comprise the most rapidly growing demographic in the U.S., so it is no surprise that Discovery Communications is adding two new Spanish-language channels in an attempt to capture a part of that potential audience goldmine.

The two new networks—Discovery Kids en Español and Discovery Viajar y Vivir (Travel and Living)—target two niche programming areas that Discovery believes aren't well-served: children and women.

“On most of the Spanish-language channels out there, you see a lot of general entertainment, soap operas and variety types of programming. And as far as sports, it's mostly soccer,” says Luis Silberwasser, general manager of Discovery Hispanic Networks, located in Miami. (Its parent is based in Silver Spring, Md.) “Hispanic women can watch a lot of telenovelas, but otherwise there's nothing else out there for them.”

Silberwasser knows the demos. “This is a very exciting segment within the U.S. Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic in the market, and they are attractive in that they are younger people with larger families,” he says. “And their income level is growing, so their purchasing power is getting to significant levels.”

Over the past 50 years, the Hispanic population in the U.S. has increased from 4 million to more than 35 million, according to BIA Financial Network (see story on page 22)—an 800% increase. What is more, Hispanic purchasing power is growing three times faster than the overall national rate and by 2010 is expected to leap to $1 trillion annually from $700 billion today, according to a report released last month by Hispanic Business Inc.

Both new Discovery channels will launch in test mode on June 17, the day of Discovery's 20th anniversary, but won't be fully operational until Sept. 1. Thus far, Discovery has announced no clearance deals, although Silberwasser says several are in the works.

The channels will likely run on the same cable and satellite tiers as Discovery's flagship Spanish-language channel, Discovery en Español. Most cable operators, in an attempt to compete with satellite-TV providers DirecTV and EchoStar Communications, are offering Spanish-language tiers or bundles—in the majority of markets—at prices between $25-$30.

Will Advertisers Nibble?

“The program offerings for Hispanics are not that robust,” Silberwasser says. “The penetration of all these tiers is between 15% to 20% of all Hispanic households, and that's clearly below where it should be. There are not a lot of very good and diverse options in terms of programming out there, in terms of content.”

But there is some cynicism about new Hispanic networks, too. “I don't find a need for it yet. I think we have enough product out there,” says Manny Rodriguez, a Hispanic-media planner for Boston-based Hill Holliday's Hispanic division in Miami. “We know what the Hispanic market is watching—Univision. There's enough product there to satisfy the whole family. If not, you have alternative programming on the other two TV networks: Telemundo and Telefutura.”

Rodriguez also says that there is no need for a Hispanic kids network because most Hispanic kids in the U.S. are acculturated and therefore watching English-language television.

Some of the country's biggest advertisers—McDonald's or Pepsi, for example—have the budgets to advertise on all these niche channels, but Rodriguez says his clients tend to have smaller budgets and can't spread them everywhere. So most will stick with Univision, which claims around 60% of the market.

But cable systems are increasingly offering subscribers better deals to add Hispanic tiers, so it is a hot programming market. “It's more competitive, so prices are getting better. And penetration is starting to grow significantly,” Silberwasser says.

Discovery Viajar y Vivir will provide shows on travel, lifestyle, cooking, well-being, design, decoration and home—“all areas of programming that are not being done today in the Hispanic market,” Silberwasser says.

“The fact that a lot of the Hispanics in the U.S. are immigrants, whether first or second generation, means there's a lot of back and forth going on,” Silberwasser adds. “Hispanics want to be able to see what's going on in the countries they are from. So we'll do a lot of things about Mexico, Latin American countries and Spain. Some people will use it to get a taste for travel, and some will travel vicariously. We also plan to do a lot of shorts on U.S. cities that are important to U.S. Hispanics, such as Miami, St. Augustine and San Antonio.”

“Transcreated” Programming

Programs already planned for Discovery Viajar y Vivir include Casas, which Silberwasser says will visit “exceptional homes, haciendas and estates of Latin America,” and Aventura Musical (Sink or Swim), in which host Jamie Aditya attempts to perform some of the world's most difficult music and dance routines.

Most of the channels' programming will be what Silberwasser calls “transcreated.”

“Programs are completely done in English from an original perspective, and then they are dubbed in a careful way with the graphics changed to Spanish,” he says. “It's a very careful level of 'transcreation.'”

Discovery will soon “start creating a lot of shows for the U.S. Hispanic market using U.S. Hispanic talent,” Silberwasser adds. “The idea is that we will have more programming that is original and exclusive and hasn't yet run on Discovery en Español in the U.S. Now that we're here in Miami and continually investing in this market, we'll be able to partner more often with our Latin American group to jointly create new productions.”

Discovery Kids en Español will be targeted to preschoolers in the morning, tweens in the afternoon, and kids and their parents at night. “It's intended for the Hispanic family to watch with their kids,” Silberwasser says, “and that's a very big need in Hispanic families.”

Hispanics are searching for ways to keep Spanish in the family, as their kids learn English at school and stop speaking Spanish outside the home. Discovery Kids en Español has already slated Spanish-language shows such as Save-Ums, an animated program for preschoolers about a team of baby superheroes; Truth or Scare, a show for tweens that explores unexplained phenomena; and Growing Up Wild, a nature show for the whole family.

Little U.S. Competition

The new Spanish-language kids channel competes with ¡Sopresa!, based in Fort Worth, Texas, which offers Spanish-language kids and family programming to 1 million viewers, says Christopher Firestone, executive VP of operations for Firestone Communications. He welcomes Discovery Kids en Español.

“It validates the space from a large corporate standpoint, and it helps sell the overall Hispanic tier or bundle,” he says. “And there are certainly different types of approaches to programming for the Hispanic demographic.”

Otherwise, Spanish-language kids programming mostly consists of secondary audio program (SAP) feeds of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network or The Disney Channel, with some Spanish-language video-on-demand available.

Nickelodeon is running Nick en Español on select Cablevision systems, with four hours of original Spanish-language programming. And Nicktoons offers SAP options on 70% of its programming, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron and Rugrats, says a Nickelodeon spokeswoman.

While Discovery is interested in expanding to the U.S. Hispanic market, it knows its limits, Silberwasser says: “The feeling is that our Hispanic offering will always have fewer channels than our Anglo offerings. We are somewhat constrained by operators' digital or satellite capacity.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.