Smaller Nets Target Hispanic Tweens

Programming television for Hispanic youth is a tough nut to crack, especially when it comes to the increasingly coveted 9-to-14-year-old tween demographic.

In addition to the same challenges faced when programming to their general-market peers, who are rapidly embracing other media, there's also the additional issue of language. That's because these kids are both bilingual and bicultural.

It's a market that is simply too large to ignore. By 2010, there will be about 4.5 million U.S. Hispanic children between aged 10 to 14, a figure which is expected to rise to almost 11 million in 2050, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this month. Overall, by 2023 minorities will comprise more than half of all children under 14.

While big networks such as Univision and Telemundo have long snubbed this complex demographic, a group of smaller, fast-growing TV outlets are churning out a healthy slate of Spanish-language programs they hope will engage this group with relevant content.

“Most Hispanics, especially tweens and teens, are bilingual, but the way they consume media is content-driven,” said María Badillo, senior vice president of programming for Sorpresa, which this week (Aug. 25) is premiering Karkú, a live-action TV series targeting Hispanic tweens and teens formatted as a telenovela. The Spanish-language series will air Monday through Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

Set in metropolitan Santiago, Chile, Karkú follows the story of 13-year-old Emilia and her five friends as they experience the tribulations of growing up. In a first episode, for instance, we see the kids working together to earn money for their school's year-end trip.

Asked why children growing up in the U.S. will identify with kids in a far away country like Chile, Badillo is confident the series will resonate, as it reflects the realities of the teenage world and promotes universal values such as friendship, companionship and team work.

“Tweens will enjoy the inspirational value, teens will identify with the challenges and successes that the characters face, and parents will appreciate the show's emphasis on working hard to realize your goals,” she said.

All Sorpresa content on TV is in Spanish, which according to Badillo is only now beginning to be recognized and valued by younger generations. In fact, according to Nielsen Media Research's 2007 Television Audience report, the first half of the ten most popular shows watched in 2007 by Hispanics ages 12-17 were in Spanish.

Sorpresa, which is owned by Juniper Content, dedicates about 21% of its weekly schedule to tweens and teens; 35% is dedicated to kids 6 to 10, and 44% is programmed for preschool children.

For its part, New York-based V-me has been tweaking its programming of late to reach the tween market. The Spanish-language national network now has half a dozen educational and entertainment shows targeting the 8-12 demo, including Cyberchase, an animated series produced by New York public broadcaster WNET; Let's Get Inventin', an Australian science and technology series; Dinosaur Detectives and the recently acquired LazyTown.

These shows are part of a new Sunday family block, which V-me is set to premiere in October, and which, according to a company spokesperson, is a result of viewers' comments and parents' demand for more programming for older children.