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Sí TV Heads to Launch Pad With 7M Homes

Sí TV, part of a wave of English-language cable networks with Latino-themed content, will launch Feb. 25
with rollouts by some major distributors and charter sponsors on board.

Sí TV will be in 7 million homes when it debuts, according to Jeff Valdez, the network's co-founder and co-chairman. That kick-off carriage includes a berth on EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network, on its America's Top 120 package, on Channel 159 alongside MTV: Music Television, according to Sí TV.

Sí TV's carriage will also include — on analog and digital — rollouts by Time Warner Cable systems in Texas, in San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Waco, San Marcos, Midland and Odessa. In addition to Time Warner, Sí TV has corporate carriage deals with Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications.

The network's roster of charter advertisers includes Wal-Mart, the U.S. Army, Sears, General Motors, Earthlink, Conair and Sony Music.

A number of programmers are now taking a strategy similar to Sí TV, in offering cable networks with English-language content that's Latin inspired, fare that will appeal to young Hispanics and cross over to other viewers.

Voy, a lifestyle network, claims it is going to launch in July. And while NBC's Mun2 has some Spanish-language shows, most of its programming is in English, according to Yolanda Foster, vice president of programming and promotions for NBC's Telemundo Cable. In a similar fashion, LATV is also targeting young bilingual Hispanics.

"Too often people get caught up in the language of a channel," Valdez said. "Sí TV's focus is more the culture. It's a fun party and everyone is invited. It's not just Hispanics that are on our air. You'll see black, you'll see Asian, you'll see white. We're not going to ghetto-ize ourselves."

Five original series

Although Sí TV is officially launching this week, its big marketing push for consumers will be April Fool's Day, when two of the network's five original series debut. Those programs are Urban Jungle,
a reality game show that plops white surburbanites into the Barrio of Central Los Angeles, where they try to survive with the help of three street-wise "padrinos." I Can't Believe It's Cinema
re-edits Mexican movies into half-hour shows with new scripted English audio tracks.

Sí TV's programming, which also includes the dating show The Rub and the music program The Drop,
is being shot in HDTV and the letterbox format, according to Valdez.

Sí TV was actually founded as a production company making English-language, Latino-themed entertainment, creating The Brothers Garcia
for Nickelodeon.

"The channel was a natural extension of our expertise as programmers for this audience," Valdez said.

He joked that when Sí TV was doing Garcia,
it bought props and other equipment rather than just rent them, warehousing them until now.

"My line producer thought I was nuts back then when I said, 'Hey, buy everything because I'm going to have a cable channel and we're going to use all this,'" Valdez said. "We probably have a $1 million worth of stuff that we banked."

Sí TV's first preference is not to be on Hispanic tiers, since "zero Spanish" is spoken on the network, according to Valdez.

"Mun2 has always been kind of a Spanglish network: Spanish, then they were bilingual, then they were Spanglish," Valdez said. "Our message has been dead on from Day One. We really are the first in that regard. We are the first all-English language [Latino-themed network.]"

Foster said that one reason Mun2 "evolved" to include much more English was that during its focus groups, young Latinos would start speaking in Spanish and then go to English.

Sí TV's program lineup will include off-network shows, like the cop drama New York Undercover and the sitcom Malcolm & Eddie, which starred Malcolm-Jamal Warner.

Mun2 distinguishes itself from Sí TV in that it does not have off-network programming, and fosters strong ties to local communities with grass-roots marketing, according to Foster. For example, Mun2 does events in different markets across the country, like taking its show The Roof
on the road, she said.

"Sí TV is going to launch as a program source," Foster said. "But this is a market if they just want to watch content, they can watch it anywhere: Fox, UPN, The WB, not to mention a bunch of cable options, and they've got Internet."

Mun2 wouldn't buy younger-skewing, African-American programming like Malcolm & Eddie.
"I'm not BET," Foster said. "I am an analogy of that. I am to Latinos what BET is to African-Americans."

Valdez, however, described Malcolm & Eddie
simply as a strong show that "over-indexed with Hispanic audiences." Because Sí TV is targeting a multi-cultural audience that includes blacks, it's an especially good fit, he contended.

"People say, 'What are you going to do about Voy and Mun2?'" Valdez said. "It's all about the programming at that point. We don't think of our audience as a niche audience, which I think is one of the mistakes that the industry is making. Our audience is Hispanic, black and Asian 18 to 34 — [that] is our core audience."

According to Valdez, in the major media markets those "three minorities combined create the majority. Our audience is the new general market."