On a recent airing of LATV Live, hosts Guad Venegas and Alexis De La Rocha introduce the newest member of the crew, a lanky kid named Mando who is clad in baggy jeans, sneakers, a green hooded sweatshirt and gray blazer. The unassuming 22-year-old is the youngest on-air personality at a local hip-hop radio station in L.A. Now he's also a DJ and music correspondent at LATV. Tonight, musical tastes run the gamut as usual, and so it's perfectly normal that the video for "Los Infieles" by bachata boy band Aventura is followed by Avril Lavigne's newest single, "Girlfriend."
"Being here at LATV is a dream," says Mando, at a loss for words and noticeably awkward behind the camera. After some casual conversation with Venegas and De La Rocha, Mando introduces a new music video from Aterciopelados' latest album in what the hosts refer to as "prep time" before the live performance by Argentine crooner Monty.
Like Mando, LATV has recently catapulted from its humble beginnings. In 2001, Latin Alternative Television started out as a three-hour program running five days a week on a local television station in L.A. Today it's a full-blown 24-hour network and the United States' first bilingual music/entertainment television station transmitted nationally via digital multicast.
At the heart of LATV's lineup is LATV Live. The innovative daily program is an interactive, edgy town-hall type show, with viewers text-messaging requests and calling in to the program's hosts real-time. Venegas, a biculturalism graduate from San Diego State, and De La Rocha, a theater performer and member of a rock group called Beatmo who has a degree in film production from UCLA, guide viewers along the confluent streams of a multicultural world while pumping out information in seamless, though often dizzying, crosscurrents of English and Spanish. For those who can't keep up with the frequent shifts, an open mind will help. But for the rest of the target audience, the 16-to-34-year-old heirs of a hyphenated heritage, these two young, hip Latinos represent the hybrid norm. The eclectic mix of Latin and American music videos, social and cultural commentary, and the artists who are invited to perform live in the studio reflect the sundry tastes and sensibilities of an ever-growing number of young Hispanic viewers.
Already LATV has affiliates in more than 26 total markets, including Puerto Rico, and there is room for more growth. LATV's chief operating officer, Howard Bolter, a former senior vice president of production and engineering at E! Entertainment Television, Style Network and E! International, says negotiations are still underway to include more markets. "We want to cover the United States," Bolter says. "We think it's just as relevant to anyone. The programming appeals to somebody in every market."
One of them, Orlando's WKMG-TV Channel 6, has decided to turn up the heat on what was once a weather subchannel by offering LATV instead. Behind the decision to nix the weather in favor of a distinctly urban alternative network for Latinos is attracting young viewers, says Henry Maldonado, vice president and general manager at WKMG-TV.
"Anybody who neglects the Hispanic market is a bad businessperson," Maldonado asserts. "The issue with the Hispanic audience is partially being addressed by the Telemundos and Univisions. But what was appealing for us was that `LATV` has the potential of reaching non-Hispanics as well. We could use this as a platform to reach a young audience, something that's not our strongest suit."
And there are plans for just that. "As we settle down in how this is working, I see us doing local shows and festivals," Maldonado says, mentioning the Calle Orange festival as a possible venue for live LATV shows. With 500,000 potential viewers who subscribe to Bright House cable on the particular tier that carries LATV, not gaining a foothold now in the new technology is simply not good business, Maldonado reiterates. Especially when your target audience is one that's increased its presence in Central Florida by 175 percent in the last seven years. With an even faster rate of growth projected over the next decade, it's easy to see where Maldonado's coming from.
But beyond demographics is the cutting-edge technology used by LATV. In a nutshell, digital multicast is a spectrum granted to broadcasters by the government. On it, broadcast companies now have a certain amount of bandwidth that allows them to split a primary digital signal into multiple channels.
"We are providing programming to stations that want to put on something different and interesting on their second channel," Bolter explains. "It gives them the ability to compete against some of the niche channels offered by cable and an opportunity to broaden who their audience is, and that's where a channel like us comes in."
By 2009 the Federal Communication Commission has mandated that all broadcast companies must switch over to digital. Anybody who has a television getting over-the-air signals with a digital antenna will be able to see these channels free.
"Not getting involved in this is like not getting involved in the Internet," Maldonado asserts. "This is smart and in the end this will be successful as far as reaching a mainstream audience. This is not going to be something that's underground."
That's what the folks behind LATV are betting on. Bolter, who has experience with network launches, including Fox and USA Network, came aboard LATV in January excited by the possibility of being part of a pioneering broadcast company. "We're creating a digital media company alongside our broadcast company," Bolter explains. "So it was this ability to create a completely next-generation digital opportunity and to provide voices to the young Latino audience that has not had the opportunity to really express itself and to really be put out nationally in a big way. This is also an opportunity for them to get into the business and make a statement about who they are and how they fit in society."firstname.lastname@example.org