Q&A: Sorpresa's Mare;a Badillo

Since taking over ¡Sorpresa!’s programming efforts in April 2007, María Badillo has been charged with supervising original productions and acquisitions, and assuring a relevant program lineup targeting preschool kids, tweens and teens. Under Badillo’s direction, the Juniper Content-owned network in October premiered its first original production Luz, Cámara, ¡Sorpresa!, a youth film competition in partnership with the Hamptons International Film Festival. Badillo, a native of Mexico, spoke to Hispanic TV Update about the network’s multiplatform approach, the challenges of targeting Hispanic kids and a rebranding effort including a new logo and tagline that will begin to be introduced progressively starting Feb. 21. The interview was conducted in Spanish. An edited, translated transcript follows:

Q: ¡Sorpresa! recently reached the 1 million subscriber mark and continues to grow its subscription base. How has the network evolved in terms of programming?

A: Although I am in charge of production, acquisitions and scheduling, I also oversee everything that has to do with extending our content to other platforms, including mobile, broadband and video on demand. That is part of our mission: to have a presence not only on air but to extend that content into other platforms, as these are already part of children’s lives. The idea is to have [children] connected to content they like through whichever platform they chose. [In the mobile category] we have deals with AT&T, Verizon and Alltel. But we are also available on the Internet, where kids can see our programming directly on their computer.

Q: Having worked at Discovery Kids Latin America, have you found some important differences between Latin American kids and U.S. Hispanic children?

A: There are several differences. For instance, when you do focus groups in Mexico, you see that Mexican kids are very polite; they try to give you information in a way that they wouldn’t offend you and wouldn’t make you feel bad. In the U.S., however, kids are much more sincere and more open to express their opinion. Kids here, also, tend to have a better access to technology overall; they are more media-savvy here than in Latin America.

Q: How does this impact your program offerings here?

A: Children in the U.S. have access to a much more diverse culture. You have kids that have been mixing with other cultures and have a need to seek their roots, where they come from, etc. These are kids growing in a melting pot and bringing their own values and mixing them with what they experience in the U.S., so for us it’s very important to have original productions that reflect that lifestyle.

Q: Does this mean the channel could consider programming in English? Or bilingual?

A: We are very close to our audiences, and if in the future the audience asks for bilingual programming, we’ll be willing to do so. But for the moment, we have been very successful with our Spanish-language programming. We have, for example, a very successful co-production deal with CNN en Español, in which children ask questions to the reporters and they respond to the kids’ questions; and it’s all in Spanish. Another very popular effort was an essay competition in partnership with RCN, and all kids were writing in Spanish.

Q: In October 2007 ¡Sopresa! premiered its first original production Luz, Cámara, Sorpresa, a youth film competition. How was the response to that?

A: We had an amazing response, with kids sending us their videos from all over the country. The films submitted showed the strong connection our viewers have with the experiences of their parents as they adjust to life in the U.S. We will be extending that program in 2008, with a bigger call to action, both on air and online.

Q: ¡Sopresa! is going to announce a new branding effort soon. Can you give us some details?

A: We are going to present a new logo, which is really an evolution of the current one, and a brand new tagline “El mundo que imaginas” (The World You Imagine), which was the result of several focus groups with children in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Miami. We landed a very cool idea: this goes from a world filled with fantasy, to a world without pollution and violence. This is a world in which they [the children] will be in charge, and we’ll be close to them all along. But the effort goes beyond just the logo and tagline; we will be giving different looks and personalities to the different areas of the network, depending on the target audience [preschool, tweens or teens.]

Q: With children becoming expert at multitasking and more media-savvy, how can TV networks address the challenges of reaching them?

A: It’s important to know them, be close to them and know their lifestyles. That is why our multiplatform strategy is extremely important. We want to create an attractive Web site, give them a voice they don’t have elsewhere, and this is why we are including user-generated features online where visitors can submit their material and their stuff; we are also implementing a CNN Que Pasa Web page in which kids send their questions online, and these are then answered by a CNN en Español reporter.

Currently, our Web site targets children ages 6-11 but we are working in elements, through our new programming, to launch more games and attract more community, and this includes launching blogs. We are working hard in growing our multiplatform approach. We know these kids are multitaskers and media-savvy, and ¡Sorpresa! wants to be near them wherever they go.