MPT to add Spanish programs

The Baltimore Sun

Recognizing the state's burgeoning Hispanic population, Maryland Public Television is adding a new 24-hour Spanish network to its lineup, the first noncommercial programming of its kind in the state.

With an expected launch in August, MPT will join about 20 markets in cities such as Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago that have become partners with the a new Spanish-language network called V-me.

The network, pronounced "veh-meh," from the Spanish veme or "see me," was unveiled in March, billing itself as "intelligent entertainment." With such offerings as a 7 a.m. yoga tutorial, a weeknight news forum that delves into Latino social issues and a Spanish version of Sesame Street called Plaza Sesamo, the channel aims to distinguish itself from the soap opera-heavy programming available on popular Spanish networks such as Telemundo and Univision.

For MPT officials, the choice to add V-me, which will exist on its own digital channel, came down to recognizing the state's growing diversity.

"The Latino population is growing across the United States and here in Maryland, there is no doubt about it," said Robert Shuman, president and chief executive officer of Maryland Public Television. "Not only do we think V-me will serve this community with quality Spanish-language programs, but it will also allow others of us to speak and learn Spanish."

Although relatively small, Maryland's Hispanic population has surged in recent years. It increased 41.5 percent between 2000 and 2005, a larger growth rate than any other ethnic group, according to U.S. census estimates.

"I think this is finally a way of saying to the Hispanic community, 'We not only acknowledge you are here, but we want to work with you,'" said Haydee Rodriguez, executive director of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which is hosting a public announcement today offering viewers a sneak peak at V-me's programming. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. at Mi Rancho Restaurant, 8701 Ramsey Ave. in Silver Spring.

For now, the only locally produced elements of the channel will focus on public-service announcements between segments and within other shows. Officials at MPT and V-me hope that as the channel becomes popular and money becomes available, broader locally produced Spanish programming might be possible.

V-me's venture, three years in the making, represents a recent surge in efforts to appeal to the nation's growing Latino viewers. With Food Network content, science and technology programs and a show where an astronaut named "Lunar Jim" introduces preschoolers to math and logic, the network's creators hope to offer Latinos what other Spanish- language networks don't: diversity.

"It brings programming that is not in competition with Univision or Telemundo - we are not trying to make the best novela," said Carmen M. DiRienzo, president of V-me Media Inc. "But if you want to watch a documentary on Napoleon, you can watch it on V-me. We are always offering choice and alternatives."

Spanish network giants have long proved their popularity among Spanish speakers, scoring high ratings news programs, variety shows and high-drama telenovelas.

But in surveys, many Latino viewers have noted a lack of quality children's programming, said Louis DeSipio, an associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine, who conducted a study on Hispanic TV viewing habits.

"They say the programs are just not educational, they are more cartoonish or action-oriented," he said. "The commercial networks have known this for years but have not ventured into this terrain."

How well V-me appeals to a wide variety of Hispanics in the U.S. - representing numerous countries of origin, various generations and educational levels - will be key to its success, said Felipe Korzenny, director of the Center for the Study of Hispanic Marketing at Florida State University."

"The other networks have appealed to the recent immigrants who did not have many options, but as many people have become more acculturated, they want more choices," he said. "The content has to be relevant."

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