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Q&A: V-me Media's Carmen Di Rienzo

Barely one month after announcing it was buying a 12% stake on V-me Media, Inc., Spain's media conglomerate Grupo PRISA has increased its stake to 17%, and plans to increase it to a majority position within the next 12 months. The move, which gave PRISA an immediate and relatively inexpensive footing in the fast-growing U.S. Hispanic market, is expected to result in more programming hailing from Spain but also in the expansion of V-me properties worldwide. Hispanic TV Update recently spoke with V-me Media's president and CEO, Carmen di Rienzo, who talked about synergies with the Spanish conglomerate and taking V-me's productions outside the U.S. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How did V-me and PRISA come together?
It's actually a very exciting story and to me it feels almost as if it was meant to be. It was a very organic relationship. From our very first year in business, in 2007, we did work with Plural Entertainment, a production company based in Miami that is owned by PRISA. We commissioned to them several productions which included Aire Yoga, produced in location in Miami. We were very impressed with them. Plural was co-located with Grupo Latino de Radio (GLR) and we also had worked with them in election coverage, for instance. We had GLR journalists in our TV program -and online we also worked together in the area of current affairs. We were very impressed with the support they received from Madrid. Overall, from the very beginning we were very interested in working with them.

Q: Did you first approach them?

A: Since we launched V-me in 2007, we planned that after achieving a certain level of distribution we would be seeking other strategic, financial investment and, of course, we went first with the people we knew and we began a dialogue with PRISA's business people about them becoming a strategic investor. We approached them in the first instance more than a year ago, but their business priorities at that time were such, that the climate was not right then. So we started talking to several other potential investors, both U.S.-based and non-U.S.-based corporations.

After a while, PRISA's circumstances changed, and they became much more focused on the U.S. Hispanic market; the time was right for them so we achieved a happy ending; like a bride going back to her first love.

Q: The British press reported the transaction was estimated in no more than $1 million. Is that correct?
That is incorrect. It was more than that, but we won't disclose financial details.

Q: What does the PRISA deal means for V-me TV in terms of programming?
The whole world of programming has become exceedingly global. What's happening to us and PRISA is really just a piece of what's happening in the global world of entertainment. Yes, there is content from PRISA that is appropriate for V-me in its current channel and the future channel s we are planning... but some of that content will be more attractive to the U.S. Hispanic market if it is re-versioned. But some other can be used as is. For example, we are working hard in building a franchise in movies, so PRISA's movie library is the kind of content you don't need to re-version it, but you can re-package it to deliver it to Hispanic audiences.
In terms of lifestyle, cooking programs, content that is attractive globally. There might be other content that is attractive but maybe it needs to be presented in a slightly different way the language needs to be adjusted... so in looking at content coming from PRISA, we will evaluate those things and act accordingly before putting it on our air.
But another very interesting part of this relationship is that we have content that it is of interest of PRISA's audience in Europe and Latin America; remember they have radio, television and cable channels throughout Europe and Latin America and a lot of our content we've been successful with, such as Estudio Billboard.

Q: Will V-me continue to produce its own content?
Absolutely. And also, I don't want to leave out the content we have online. There's a great opportunity to develop online content with PRISA.
There's a wonderful opportunity to develop Santillana properties for television. Santillana is the largest publisher of Spanish-language books, and that gives us a huge opportunity. Think about Scholastic. And how Scholastic has Clifford the Big Red Dog and Clifford became a wonderfully educational kids program. I'm sure there are a lot of Cliffords hiding in those bookshelves. Characters that TV and online audiences will love.
There is really great opportunities for us to look at things that we know our audiences love. V-me came into existence to fill a gap in the programming available. There is no other strategic investor that would be as much of a complement to what we want to do.

Q: What about V-me's Web site? I've noticed your site hasn't changed much since launch...
We are looking forward to developing our Web site in a number of ways. We do plan to have much more Web-only content; we want to do much more content sharing with PRISA's several Web sites, which report over 30 million unique visitors a month... So we are developing ideas to how that content sharing will happen best. What is the content we can offer only on the Web, etc.
There's not a lot out there targeting parents; we want to boost our offer online for the parents. Also, we plan to bring more video online.

Q: The Spanish press has reported on the creation of a 24/7 Spanish-language news channel. Is this correct?
We have always had plans of having additional channels. PRISA has also talked about plans developing additional channels globally. I cannot talk much, but I can tell you we are in active negotiations for carriage of an additional channel; but I cannot disclose more specifics.

Q: Bring us up to date on V-me's distribution...
We are currently in 64 million households, 9 million of which are Hispanic households, bringing us to 70% penetration in Hispanic households. And we have an additional 1.4 million in Puerto Rico.