The number of Hispanic programming options open to cable operators has increased dramatically over the past few years, with the advent of newly created national networks, Spanish-language versions of popular English channels and imports of Latin American favorites.
Now, some operators have added local programming to the mix.
Early this month, Time Warner Cable in Tampa Bay, Fla., launched Bay News 9 en Español — a new Spanish-language news feed — on its digital tier.
It's a spinoff of Bay News 9, an English-language news channel available on basic for the past four years. Bay News had been active in the Hispanic community since its launch, and had been working for the past two years to plan a news service that would better meet the needs of local Hispanics, said vice president and general manager Elliott Wiser.
Tampa Bay is home to the fourth-largest Cuban community in the U.S., and it's the No. 19 Hispanic market, said Wiser. Its per capita income puts it at No. 2 among U.S. Hispanic communities, he added.
"Tampa has always been known for its Cuban community, but every nationality is represented here," Wiser said.
As with other U.S. cities, Tampa Bay's Hispanic population has seen dramatic growth — it increased by 20 percent between 1990 and 2000.
There are 327,000 Hispanics within Time Warner Tampa Bay's coverage area, Wiser estimated, although not all of them are cable customers. Of those who are cable customers, 50,000 subscribe to the operator's digital-cable package.
The operator offers Hispanic networks Telefutura, Telemundo and Univision on basic, and HBO Latino East and West on digital, according to system spokeswoman Linda Chambers.
STRONG AD START
Wiser said he's pleased to be able to add the channel as a service for the local Hispanic community he described as underserved. The move should also help encourage more customers to upgrade to digital, he noted.
Bay News 9 en Español sold out its advertising sponsorships before the channel launched on March 4.
"I don't think I'll ever be able to say that [about a new network] again," Wiser said.
Advertisers include a local car dealer, law office and jeweler, he added.
In each 15-minute programming wheel, there are two minutes of commercials, five minutes of weather, six minutes of local news and two minutes of international news.
Weather reports are created in Atlanta in partnership with Weather Channel Latin America, which provides the meteorologists. "We send the forecasts," Wiser said.
Bay News 9 en Español was careful to pick anchors that did not favor one particular Hispanic dialect, but were more universally understood, Wiser noted.
Some of the local stories are borrowed from the English-language channel and dubbed into Spanish, but others are developed specifically for the Hispanic audience.
When bilingual Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently sat down with Bay News 9 for an in-depth discussion, he conducted a separate interview in Spanish.
The network's Web site provides quick updates in Spanish. They're not as extensive as the English-language stories because "we want people to go to digital cable and watch en Español," Wiser said.
MIGHT BE A MODEL
Time Warner has promoted the new network through spots on Bay News 9 and in cross-channel spots, as well as in customer newsletters, during appearances at local Hispanic community events and through an ad in the local Hispanic Yellow Pages.
The operator also plans to promote Bay News 9 en Español through direct mail.
Time Warner has other markets with large Hispanic populations where it might make sense to replicate the news format, Wiser said.
Time Warner Cable corporate executives will evaluate the success in Tampa Bay before opting to launch the Hispanic news format in other markets, vice president of business development Mark Aronson said.
"We're a big player in the Texas market," Aronson said, noting that Houston, San Antonio and Austin are possible cities where Hispanic news operations could launch.
"New York City also has a big Hispanic market," Aronson said, adding that Milwaukee stands out because its Hispanic population has grown so quickly.
In Phoenix, Cox Communications Inc. offers Mas! Arizona, a 24-hour Spanish-language news channel provided in partnership with Belo Corp.