VOY, which so far has no distribution on either cable or satellite platforms, is scheduled to launch July 19. The Los Angeles-based digital channel will compete for the hearts and minds of U.S. Hispanics against the established Spanish-language channels, as well as another English-language channel aimed at 18-to-24-year-old U.S. Hispanics, SiTV.
The emergence of English-language networks comes as Anglo broadcasters are increasingly looking over their shoulders at the fast-growing Hispanic American population, now the largest ethnic group in the U.S., and as Nielsen Media Research is struggling to make its TV ratings sample more representative of both Spanish- and English-speaking Hispanics. In recognition of the growing role of Latino viewers, NBC acquired Telemundo, though the other majors so far have not established a significant TV foothold in the market.
Adults ages 18-49 may be one of the hottest--yet controversial--demographics in general-market TV, but TV veteran Andrew Thau, president and chief executive officer of VOY, believes it's an opportunity for a niche lifestyle network that gives more than just a nod to Hispanic culture and heritage. Viacom's CBS unit tried, but gave up on a 24-hour news channel aimed at Spanish-speaking Americans.
"It's an underrepresented market," Thau said Tuesday afternoon in an interview before the network's official announcement today.
There's certainly no denying the strength of Hispanics, which make up about 14 percent of the population, with about $653 billion in buying power in 2003. The size of the Spanish-language TV market has been increasing in recent years--growth outpaces other mediums, although it starts at a larger base--and the Hispanic market has caught the attention of both big-brand marketers and advertising agencies. But Thau contends that VOY Network can tap on an English-dominant audience that flips between general market TV and Spanish-speaking networks like Univision.
VOY will position itself as a lifestyle network, with talk shows, reality, travel, food, political, and documentaries, among others. The emphasis will be on original programming, since--as Thau points out--there aren't a lot of culturally relevant English-language shows for Hispanics.
And, initially at least, there won't be any dramas or comedies. Univision has the market locked up for telenovellas, which are a dominant form of programming for Spanish-language TV. And VOY doesn't have the money right now to spend on developing dramas and comedies, which are expensive for emerging networks.
VOY is beginning to take its message to advertisers. Thau said there will be many opportunities beyond the 30-second spot, including sponsorships and product placements that still have to be worked out.
"We're very TiVo-PVR friendly," Thau said. "We're not reliant on the 30-second spot."
Thau spent seven years at Fox, where he helped launch both English- and Spanish-language regional sports networks. The management team also includes Fernando Espuelas as chairman; Lucia Ballas-Traynor, head of programming; Jon Dubin, head of advertising sales; and Cathy Rasenberger, who will lead distribution efforts.
Thau said there have been discussions with cable and satellite operators, although the talks haven't yet yielded any distribution. He declined to discuss VOY's goals for initial distribution and opportunities for growth over the next several years.
VOY isn't aligned with any big media company, which could hamper its ability to gain distribution. The network is funded by private national and international sources, but Thau didn't close the door on investment by larger media companies that could help smooth the way for distribution.