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Scripps Has Eye On Hispanic Cable Nets

Hoping to claim a share of the Hispanic television market, Scripps Networks is looking to create Spanish-language versions of its Home & Garden Television and Food Network.

The Hispanic initiative by Scripps — the cable-programming unit of TV station and newspaper owner E.W. Scripps Co. — is in the very early stages of development. But Scripps officials said they're serious about their desire to launch so-called "category" cable networks with original programming tailored and targeted directly to Hispanic viewers and their cultural sensibilities.

Any Hispanic network created by Scripps would not just be a Spanish-language translation of one of its English-language channels, but a totally new, standalone service, company officials said.

"We have strong feelings — based on demographics, psychographics, and buying patterns at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse and Home Depot — that there really is a need for a Hispanic version of our services, both Home & Garden and Food," said E.W. Scripps Co. CEO Ken Lowe. "But they truly need to be Hispanic versions. The company is definitely committed to move that way.

"We have a lot of television stations and newspapers in markets where we'll be testing some of the concepts, too."

E.W. Scripps's media empire includes 21 newspapers and 10 TV stations, with a number of them in markets with large Hispanic populations, such as Corpus Christi, Texas; Denver; Phoenix; Tampa and Palm Beach, Fla.; and Albuquerque, N.M.

Cable unit Scripps Networks currently includes HGTV, Food Network and Do It Yourself. Despite the tough ad market and a ruptured economy, Scripps has vowed to expand its cable stable and next year will roll out Fine Living, a luxury-lifestyle service.

Since the 2000 U.S. Census declared Hispanics to be the fastest growing segment of the population — growth has soared by 58 percent since 1990, to 35.3 million — media companies have expressed a heightened interest in entering the Hispanic TV arena.

For instance, AOL Time Warner Inc., NBC and Viacom Inc. have recently emerged as suitors for Telemundo.

In television, the Hispanic market has been dominated by general-entertainment networks, such as Telemundo and Univision, and Spanish-language news and sports networks. There has been a dearth of lifestyle channels that run programming on home and hearth — what Scripps calls "category" networks — for a Hispanic audience.

"Home, family, food — those are all very, very popular areas for targeting television," said Susan Packard president of Scripps Networks New Ventures, which develops and incubates new channels. "And so we feel fortunate that we own those categories. And we think it makes sense to potentially broaden out our demography and to offer those categories to the Hispanic population."

One issue Scripps will examine is language, and whether a new Hispanic cable network should offer English programming for bilingual viewers, as well as Spanish programming.

The executive directly shepherding the Hispanic cable initiative is Scripps Networks vice president of international development Kristen Jordan.

"We have information that suggests that the categories we currently program at Scripps Networks do have a great resonance within the Hispanic population in this country," Jordan said.

At least one MSO official welcomed the idea of having a greater selection of Hispanic networks to offer his subscribers.

"We think quality Hispanic programming is what is needed in a number of our markets," said Jerry McKenna, vice president of strategic marketing for Cable One Inc., which has systems in states such as Arizona and New Mexico. "And we don't want something that is just dubbed HGTV. We would consider a new programming network targeted to that audience."

Jordan stressed that Scripps's research — which will include the testing of show pilots — will try to determine exactly how any new food- or home-centered Hispanic network should be programmed to reflect that culture.

"We are aware of the fact that to appropriately communicate with this audience, it is more than language," she said. "It's a matter of being aware of the commonalities that the Hispanic audience shares with our current English-speaking audience, but also being aware that there is a unique perspective that the Hispanic viewer would bring to the viewing of our content."

There are already Hispanic versions of English print lifestyle magazines that offer distinctive content, rather than just anglophone content translated into Spanish, according to Adolfo Aguilar, president of San Antonio ad agency Creative Civilization. An example is the Miami magazine Ocean Drive en Español,
he said, which offers different content than Ocean Drive.

He sees the Hispanic market as ripe for cable networks that deal with home improvement, decorating and food, as members of that ethnic group make more purchases of home fix-it items than the general population, she said.

"Hispanics over-index in the do-it-yourself category, from homes to cars," Aguilar said. "Home Depot and Lowe's enjoy a large Hispanic clientele. And the whole food category would have a strong attraction to this group."

Though Scripps is looking for domestic networks to serve U.S. Hispanics, Packard said, "the hope would be that we would be able to take some of the content and move it to Latin America and other places."

Jordan stressed that Scripps is only in the very preliminary stages of "really figuring out the best way to give this viewing population information in its most acceptable form."

The programmer will study and incubate one or two Hispanic cable networks this year and next, she said.

"We've done research," Packard said. "We're continuing to do more research. We're testing concepts. We're testing programming ideas.

"And then once we go through that process, it would make sense that the next step would possibly go to pilot. And then after we go to pilot, we would test again and see what kind of reception we would have to how we are speaking to the Hispanic population."

Packard added that E.W. Scripps's Cincinnati headquarters is "willing to provide some capital for us to possibly walk down this path" of creating Hispanic networks.

"It hasn't really been determined if it's one or two," she said.

Earlier this month, Scripps executive vice president Richard Boehne was asked by a reporter at one of Scripps' papers, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times,
about the company's commitment to the Hispanic market.

"We see a big opportunity on the cable-network side, and we're doing pilots and looking for distribution partners now to try to get our foot in the door," Boehne told the Caller-Times.

The direct-broadcast satellite providers, DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications, as well as cable operators such as AT&T Broadband, Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and Adelphia Communications, have Hispanic tiers, according to Packard.

"They all have packages that are targeted to the Hispanic audience, and many of those companies have approached us and really have an interest in us working in this whole area," she said.

DirecTV Inc.'s "Para Todos" Hispanic packages have already hit the 94 percent goal for subscriptions this year, according to a DirecTV spokesman.

"That market has been totally underserved," he said. "We've taken advantage of that."

Despite the tough ad environment and weak economy, Scripps plans to continue expanding its cable unit by launching new networks, Lowe said.

And the fact that Scripps is jockeying to gain distribution for Fine Living's debut next year won't put a crimp on plans for any new Hispanic service, according to Packard.

"The Hispanic market, from a distribution standpoint, is very targeted," she said. "It's relatively finite, so to a certain extent it doesn't collide with Fine Living."