Originally published in Current, April 3, 2006
By Steve Behrens
New York’s WNET has arranged startup funding for a fulltime public TV network for Hispanic Americans to begin service in the fall, according to Carmen DiRienzo, the station v.p. shouldering the project.
First announced last October at a public TV press conference in Washington, D.C., the channel — working title, Viva — will mix programming made abroad and in this country, with about one-quarter being Spanish-language versions of major PBS shows, DiRienzo said. The plan is not just to “slap a track” on programs off the shelf, she said.
Spanish will be the primary language, she said, because even though 65 percent of Latinos are multilingual, the preferred language at home is Spanish. Surveys indicate this is true even among longtime U.S. residents, many of whom want to maintain the language and look for family-friendly programming that can be understood by all household members, including any who aren’t comfortable in English.
Though Spanish-speaking Americans can find a fair amount of programming on pay channels, she said, most free Spanish programming focuses on particular home countries “but not necessarily with an emphasis on the world as a whole or the U.S. as the place they’ve chosen to live.”
DiRienzo expects “significant” numbers of public TV stations to adopt the 24-hour program service for airing on the stations’ DTV multicast channels, which were assured widespread cable carriage by a pact last year between public TV and the major cable operators. The channel will reach beyond traditional Hispanic American population centers, she said, because that population is now growing rapidly in other states, including Tennessee, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
Hispanic Americans made up 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2004 and are likely to constitute 25 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
WNET expects to make it easier for stations to adopt the channel by offering it without station contributions for at least three years, she said. “This network offers stations a chance to reach into a whole new segment of the population,” DiRienzo said. “It is reasonable to assume it will take stations some time to generate viewership and membership interest.”
DiRienzo likes the feel and the shortness of the name Viva, which would fit nicely into TV listings, but she says that’s one of many questions yet to be decided.
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