ABC Cable, Outdoor Channel Study Latino Nets

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Two programmers at opposite ends of the spectrum, ABC Cable Networks Group and The Outdoor Channel, are both exploring creating Hispanic networks, officials said last week.

ABC Cable is mulling a domestic Disney-branded kids network for Hispanics. "It's something we are actively pursuing," an ABC Cable spokesman said. "It is certainly something we're looking at, and something operators have asked us about."

The Outdoor Channel is eyeing a new separate network that would offer programming on hunting and fishing in Spanish.

"We think it's an opportunity," said Andy Dale, The Outdoor Channel's president. "We see a lot of Hispanic packages being launched. Hispanic tiers are hot right now."

ABC Cable, the programming giant that owns Disney Channel, and The Outdoor Channel, a 23.1-million subscriber independent service, are still in the process of researching the complex Latino marketplace. Officials said a number of issues must be resolved before going forward with any Spanish-language networks, especially in today's tough environment.

The Latino marketplace is daunting from many standpoints. U.S. Hispanics are not a monolithic group, but rather have many different origins — Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and South and Central American — and cultural differences. The challenge is to create TV of interest for all those Spanish-speaking subsets.

ABC Cable is also trying to determine if it makes more sense to offer Spanish-language children's programming on a video-on-demand or subscription VOD basis, rather than as a stand-alone 24-hour network.

Another issue is how much, if any, of the programming should be in English.

While the Hispanic segment is complex, it's a potentially lucrative market that cable operators are very focused on now, Dale said.

Outdoor, which wouldn't expect to launch a Hispanic network any earlier than a year from now, is considering doing original Spanish-language shows as well as dubbing some of its English-language programs.

Dale added that Hispanics, like any other ethnic group, are interested in participatory sports and not just watching teams play soccer, for example.

"Fishing and hunting are universally popular," Dale said. "It translates well. We think there is a need for it. It's a market we think is under-represented."

There has been an explosion of Spanish-language networks in the past year or so. On the sports side, there are several Spanish-language networks, with ESPN slated to launch ESPN Deportes as a 24-hour channel later this year.

Nickelodeon had considered creating a Spanish-language network for kids, according to a source, but then put those plans on the back burner. An independent Spanish-language kids network, Sorpresa, debuted earlier this year.

The Outdoor Channel now has distribution in Mexico, while ABC Cable has international Spanish-language Disney Channels, like Disney Channel Latin America.

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