Monday, September 25, 2006
From The New York Times…
Focusing on an Attitude Rather Than a Language
By MIREYA NAVARRO
LOS ANGELES — In “Pimpeando,” a new show about cars, the talk is of lowriders and paint jobs with images of Aztecs and the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The target audience may also watch “Pimp My Ride,” the MTV car customizing series on which “Pimpeando” is based. But the sought-after viewers for this show are primarily young Latinos, a fast-growing demographic whose taste in entertainment runs from English to Spanish, from American to Latin, and back. And MTV is giving chase.
Today it is starting MTV Tr3s as a replacement for the all-Spanish language “MTV en Español,” a 15-year-old video jukebox that MTV executives now say was a placeholder while they tried to figure out more fitting programming for the Latino youth audience.
The new MTV Tr3s, or MTV Three, doesn’t shun Spanish — it will broadcast, for example, “Quiero Mis Quinces,” a Latin American show about the coming-of-age parties for 15-year-old girls, with English subtitles — but it will mostly reflect the fusion of American and Latin music, cultures and languages, MTV executives said.
That means V.J.’s who speckle their English with Spanish words, a playlist that puts Daddy Yankee next to Justin Timberlake, and original programming like “Pimpeando,” which pairs the popular host-customizer Michael Martin, or “Mad Mike,” star of “Pimp My Ride,” with Luis Lopez, a custom painter from the San Fernando Valley.
MTV Tr3s, pronounced “MTV tres,” is concentrating on Latinos between the ages of 12 and 34 and expects to reach at least 15 million households through cable, satellite and broadcast channels, said Lucia Ballas-Traynor, general manager of the network’s new channel.
Market research has consistently shown that while the American-born generations increasingly speak only English, they preserve a pride and sense of uniqueness based on their Hispanic heritage. Christina Norman, the president of MTV, declined to estimate the dollar investment the network made in Tr3s, but she said that from its name — “Three,” following MTV and MTV2, MTV’s video-intensive offshoot — to its sharing of MTV’s marketing, research and even personnel, the new network is beaming a message in and outside the company that “it’s not that Latin channel over there.”
“In people, in money and in time, MTV Tr3s is part of the MTV brand in the biggest way that we can think of,” she said.
The potential audience is huge. About one in five Americans aged 34 and younger is of Hispanic descent, and MTV executives cite Census Bureau estimates that say by 2020 the Latino teenage population is expected to have grown 62 percent, compared to 10 percent for teenagers over all.
Television networks are not the only ones trying to figure out how to reach this audience. Carl Kravetz, chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, said his group is grappling with a shift away from equating Latin with Spanish. He said that instead of emphasizing language — “Should we do the ad in English or Spanish?” — the thinking is shifting to first considering whether the message touches on the common values and attitudes that set Latinos apart from the general market.
These attitudes, he said, include a less individualistic approach to life, a less rebellious view of parents and a less rigid sense of privacy.
“It is obvious that whatever it is at the core of feeling Latino is not just about language,” Mr. Kravetz said. “It really is about identity.”
Already cable channels like SiTV and Mun2, a Telemundo channel that underwent a makeover last year, offer Latin-theme hybrid programming. Robert Rose, chief executive of the AIM Tell-A-Vision Group, which produces two syndicated shows for American-born Latinos, said that the advent of MTV Tr3s is significant because it should help get the attention of advertisers, the majority of which, he noted, still try to reach Latinos through Spanish-language media only.
“I view them as an ally because they’re further validating the market that we’re all targeting,” Mr. Rose said of MTV.
Executives at Mun2 say their shows are striking a cord with their target audiences. A musical countdown show of both Spanish and English hits, “18 & Over,” beats MTV, VH1 and BET among Hispanic viewers aged 12 to 34, with about 66,000 watching.
The numbers may seem small, but Alex Pels, general manager of Mun2, said the network’s ratings have tripled since it was revised last year with different programs and a more balanced offering of shows — from the hip-hop oriented “One Nation” to the Mexican regional music-based “Reventón” — which appeal to Latino tastes that vary from the East Coast to the West Coast. (Mun2 also relocated its headquarters to Los Angeles from Miami.)
But Mr. Kravetz said, “We’re still not in a place of ratings wars.” The efforts to reach young Latinos, he said, is “at a point where people are still tweaking and fine-tuning and trying to figure things out, including MTV Tr3s.”
Their smaller size and niche status allow cable channels to experiment in ways broadcast networks often don’t. MTV, for instance, has also been courting young Americans of Korean, Indian and Chinese descent with their own music channels.
Cheskin, a research firm that this year released a report based on videotaped interviews with bilingual Latinos ages 13 to 19, found that these teens often include their extended family in their social network, that they want to be part of the mainstream but maintain their ethnic identity and that they will respond to either English or Spanish content as long as “it recognizes the role that Hispanic culture plays in their lives.”
Jose Tillán, a senior vice president at MTV Tr3s, said the channel would serve as a platform to develop new Latino musical talent and will put Latin superstars like Alejandro Sanz and Juanes on an equal footing as English-language counterparts such as Beyoncé and U2.
Programming includes adaptations of MTV shows like “Total Request Live” and “Sucker Free.” “MiTRL” on MTV Tr3s showcases talent from both cultures, relying on rock, urban and pop music, and “Sucker Free Latino” features hip-hop and reggaeton.
“For us it’s extremely exciting,” said Gus Lopez, president of Machete Music, Universal Music Group’s Latino urban label, whose artists include reggaeton stars like Don Omar. “I’m hoping the right videos for new music and unique talent could open up the door to a new listener and maybe even radio.”
And to take into account differences among Latino groups, the channel offers music blocks and “destination” shows to appeal to that diversity. “Pimpeando,” for example, is geared to the Mexican-American market, which helped establish the low-riding car culture.
“It’s something people ask, why hasn’t it happened before,” said Abel Izaguirre, an artist who appeared on “Pimpeando” to talk about his murals and automotive airbrush work.
At 35 Mr. Izaguirre is on the fringes of the MTV Tr3s target audience, but he said that his 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son will likely be viewers because they already watch MTV, Mun2 and LATV, a hybrid local channel here.
Even with MTV Tr3s this population is still underserved, Mr. Kravetz said.
“What happens to the children who are now watching ‘Dora the Explorer?’” he asked, referring to the Nickelodeon cartoon. “What happens when they become tweens and teenagers? There’s still not a lot for them to turn to where they find themselves represented.”