Latino TV’s English Sound Machine


Among the 75 channels or so targeting Hispanics in the U.S., Sí TV has become a bit of a standout. It’s not just that this start-up network’s top officials have been on the industry circuit to explain and debate their decision to position the channel as an English-language service for hip, urban Hispanics. It’s also because of its ownership.

Other nascent services like TeleFutura and Mun2 can count on the clout of powerful parents — NBC in the case of Mun2 and Univisión Communications when it comes to TeleFutura. Many are spinoffs of mighty players like ESPN or networks in foreign countries. But almost none has gone the route of Sí TV, which gained the backing of two behemoth American operators: EchoStar Communications Corp. and Time Warner Cable. That deal, which scored Sí TV a $60 million funding round, is “enough for a long time,” says Jeff Valdez, co-founder and chairman of Sí TV.

Besides distribution on Dish Network and Time Warner, Sí TV has deals with Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., that have helped it touch down in 9.2 million households since its launch in late February 2004. One of its more recent coups was gaining distribution in Time Warner’s New York and New Jersey systems. “Launching in the 'Big Apple’ has been at the top of our list since we first launched nearly a year ago,” Valdez says.

With the channel’s 'Speak English, Live Latin’ theme, “we’re really going after a younger audience with a Hispanic base,” says Valdez. “It’s the emerging market. Our audience is really early adapters.”

The programming lineup includes a mix of original and acquired series and movies, shown in eight-hour cycles three times a day. The network developed eight original series in 2004, and aims to do the same this year.

While it still hasn’t gained the critical mass to trigger Nielsen Media Research ratings, Sí TV has lured a long list of major advertiser brands that include Microsoft Corp.; Adidas; McDonald’s; Burger King; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Wal-Mart; General Motors Corp.; Sony Music; Earthlink; and Victoria’s Secret.

“We’ve already gotten early orders this year,” Valdez says. “We had zero advertisers last year. Now we’re walking in with 30.”

Valdez, a comedian, producer and entrepreneur, founded Sí TV as a production company in 1997 and has nurtured the idea of a network for even longer. He credits much of his brainchild’s early success to its unique slant and its lack of a large corporate parent calling the shots. Despite the fact that it has two large corporate investors, Valdez argues that Sí TV’s small size allows it to respond quicker to cultural trends and technological advances. “It’s a fresh, independent voice,” he says.

With a goal of building an audience of at least 20 million homes, Valdez is shooting for 14 million to 15 million multichannel households by the end of 2005.