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Q&A with Michael Schwimmer

5/12/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Michael Schwimmer, who was named CEO of SíTV last August after eight years at EchoStar Communications Corp., insists the future of Hispanic television is in English-language programming. Certainly, the notion of English-language cable channels targeting young Latinos has gone from rarity to common; but that also means an increasingly crowded playing field. The primary challenges the network now faces are increasing distribution and growing its audience in a more and more competitive market.

MCN: What is the outlook for this year’s upfront?

Michael Schwimmer: Over the last couple of years we have been in the process of creating a new category of programming. It has been as much about establishing the category as selling programming. Early on there were more media buyers who would say, 'Why do I need to buy SíTV when I know young Hispanics are watching MTV [Music Television] or ESPN? Why do I need to buy your network?’

Those conversations have changed through hard work, evangelism and a growing awareness of the [Latino youth] category. Advertisers are realizing that they are overspending on Spanish-language television instead of reaching young Latinos. This year’s upfront is more: 'OK, we all agree this is a real category, a necessary part of the landscape in order to reach young Latinos.’

MCN: How does the entrance of MTV Tr3s change the competitive landscape for SíTV?

MS: It would be crazy of me not to think of MTV as a very strong competitor. I think what we offer is a unique and independent voice for an audience that has been underserved. This audience has been watching MTV for years, and for them to get a new flavor of MTV is different from a channel run by a company that has a single focus in life. We are not serving other dishes from the same kitchen. We have the advantage of being independent and flexible. In the very near future it is going to be a very heated battle.

MCN: Do you think the Univision sale has had the unintended effect of increasing interest in English-language, Hispanic-themed programming?

MS: Sellers of business try to sell at the top of the market. You don’t sell if your business is growing. You sell when you think it is at the top. Advertisers are realizing there are more ways to get to Hispanics than just large Spanish-language broadcasters. Univision’s sale has a clear message — this is a good time for the owners to get out.

MCN: Do you have much in the way to grow for digital basic carriage? Do you have a target number of subscribers?

MS: We will double our number of subscribers, more than double the number. There is the growing consciousness that Hispanic culture is part of mainstream America. We are not creating a channel for a Latino ghetto. We are creating a channel where Latinos can identify with people on the screen.

MCN: SíTV is not rated by Nielsen and you don’t seem to think those ratings are worth having. Yet, like it or not, Nielsen ratings are television’s common currency. Don’t you have to reduce your ad rates until you have ratings?

MS: Let’s put things in an order, a process. First thing we had to do was establish credibility with advertisers and with an audience that was underserved. We have to be very, very accommodating in terms of working with advertisers to integrate their products and services into our programming. Product integration for us is second nature. We think we are going to do well when we do end up buying ratings.