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No Matter What You Speak

NBC Universal is giving its kids' programming a new accent. The company is joining with several partners to launch Qubo, a weekend block offered in English on NBC and Spanish on Telemundo. It was scheduled to debut over the weekend.

While the programming at first will be the same on the two NBC U networks (as well as on the Ion's I network starting Sept. 15) and simply dubbed in Spanish on Telemundo, Qubo may eventually include programming developed specifically for its Hispanic audience.

As it stands, NBC U executives believe the three-hour block that includes the classic Babar will have appeal to both audiences.

“Our intent is not to create shows in English and then put a Spanish track on it,” says Narendra Reddy, Qubo's interim general manager. “We want to create shows that will have universal appeal to both English- and Spanish-dominant households.”

But the Spanish market for Qubo (pronounced “cue-bo” and used in the lower case, as in “qubo”) is evident. U.S. Census figures estimate that 22% of the kids in the U.S. under 5—4.4 million—are Hispanic. Altogether, 20% of children under 13 in the U.S. are Hispanic—11.3 million.

The big question is whether those youngsters growing up will mainly watch English-language or Spanish-language TV, or some perplexing combination.

Qubo, which will also include a 24/7 linear network that is expected to offer some Spanish-language shows, replaces both the NBC Saturday-morning block programmed by Discovery and Telemundo's ratings-challenged kids' shows.

Telemundo executives believe the upgraded programming will improve audience delivery on weekend mornings (the Qubo block will be split between Saturdays and Sundays), part of the network's overall strategy to boost ratings for all its weekend programming after focusing on Monday-Friday primetime.

More interest

Since the announcement of Qubo, Reddy says Telemundo has been “receiving a lot more advertising interest,” including from leading kids' marketer Kellogg.

Spanish-language television was the second-fastest-growing ad category (up 21.8% to $1.5 billion) in the first half of 2006, behind only the Internet, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

But one prominent kids-media buyer throws cold water on Qubo's prospects on Telemundo. Beacon Media Group CEO Shelly Hirsch says Spanish-language kids programming has traditionally been “insignificant,” since Hispanic kids generally learn English quickly and prefer shows on Nickelodeon and other networks that their American counterparts enjoy.

“Most Hispanic children want to assimilate into American culture when they come here,” Hirsch says.

“It has been hard to be sure if there really is a market that wants a full Spanish Nickelodeon,” says Tom Ascheim, executive VP and general manager at Nickelodeon. “But that is something we continue to explore, and if we find demand, we'll try to follow it.”

Telemundo executives, however, think they can attract Hispanic kids, since their parents, who are slower to learn English, will encourage them to watch Spanish-oriented shows—both so they can understand and monitor the content and so their kids can gain some familiarity with their roots and culture.

Discovery Kids en Español already serves kids in Spanish. And besides Qubo, other kids programmers are taking notice of the growing Hispanic population and looking for ways to offer bilingual, multicultural content in the vein of Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer. Nick, for example, will offer a third show with Spanish sprinkled in next year, while Cartoon Network has launched Spanish-language site And Disney Channel this month introduces Handy Manny, an animated show with a Latino lead character that uses two languages.

Qubo is 51% owned by Ion and includes programming partners Scholastic, Corus Entertainment and Classic Media. They're betting it will work.

“Children today are growing up in the most diverse culture our country has ever seen,” says Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media.

“We think it is great for kids to have choices ... to watch quality shows in whichever language they and their families choose. Qubo clearly has a distinct voice, advocating literacy and values, which resonates in any language.”