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All-Spanish Kids TV Channel Set To Launch


March 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Do young Hispanics want to watch TV shows in English or Spanish?

Two cable networks have reached opposite conclusions.

On Saturday a group of New York media investors will launch ¡Sorpresa!, the first U.S. cable channel for children entirely in Spanish.

Spanish, however, did not work for Telemundo's mun2 televisión (read MOON-dos, or world in Spanish), which targets Hispanics ages 18 to 34.

It switched to English, with a smattering of Spanish and Spanglish, at the end of 2002.

''Through time and research we found that [younger Hispanics] were really more receptive to English than Spanish,'' said Claudia Santa Cruz, spokeswoman for the Hialeah-based network. ``It's really more about culture than language.''

Analysts say that's more in line with the youth market trend, but with scant broadcast programming for children in Spanish, ¡Sorpresa! believes there's a ready niche for Spanish-language shows for kids ages 2 to 14.

The channel will offer 24 hours of game, talk and variety programs, cartoons, and documentaries from Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Mornings will be slotted for younger children, with late afternoons and evenings for older kids.

''It's all new stuff that hasn't been seen here before,'' said Luis L. Estrada, vice president of programming.

The channel is being launched in South Florida and other major Hispanic markets by Firestone Communications, a private media company recently formed by a group of television executives in New York.

¡Sorpresa!, which means surprise in Spanish, will use the production studios and uplink facilities that Firestone recently bought from the creditors of Hispanic Television Network in Fort Worth, Texas. Launched in 1999, HTVN is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Firestone also acquired HTVN's cable carriage agreements, which will enable ¡Sorpresa! to immediately roll out on Time Warner Cable, Cox and the National Cable TV Cooperative, reaching some 400,000 subscribers on 350 systems.

In South Florida, HTVN is carried by Comcast Cablevision. HTVN is scheduled to go off the air at midnight Friday, when ¡Sorpresa! will be available, but Comcast officials said they were not aware of the change.

Experts on multiculturalism say mun2's experience underscores the difficulty of trying to reach Hispanic youths exclusively in Spanish.

The majority of Hispanic children and teens in the United States were born here and are bilingual, preferring mostly English-language television from school-age on, said Carlos Santiago, president and chief executive of The Santiago Solutions Group.

Kids usually don't see Spanish-language television, which their parents may prefer, as ``cool.''

''Even with a 6-year-old, they have to be able to talk to their friends about the show and relate to it. That's why Dora the Explorer, which is bilingual, is cool,'' Santiago said. ``It's a very aggressive proposition to satisfy kids with cool programming in Spanish 24 hours.''

Estrada of ¡Sorpresa! said the uniqueness of the content will give the new channel an edge. One sitcom, from Argentina's TeLeFe International, is Mi Familia es un Dibujo (My Family is a Drawing), which features parents played by actors who have a child portrayed as a cartoon character.

''There's definitely a place for us,'' Estrada said. ``And there's a lot of programming available.''

The company said talks with advertisers are under way. One in six children in the United States is Hispanic, so the market is there, said Michael Fletcher, president of Firestone.

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