By Sara Kehaulani Goo
The Washington Post
April 9 - In the opening scene, singer Christina Aguilera smiles and tells viewers they're watching TV Ñ. Ricky Martin's Latin beat blasts as graphics dance across the screen, and host Sarahi Diaz introduces the pilot show's features on fashion, music, beauty and hot places to visit.
"In Adams-Morgan, you can find everything, todo y mas," Diaz says before a clip is shown about young artists in the neighborhood. "Dime what I can do to make myself more beautiful," she asks before a spot about makeovers for young Latinas. She explains what's "caliente in fashion y mucho mas" before a scene of a models walking down a runway.
TV Ñ (pronounced TV enyeh) doesn't exist yet, but its Hispanic founders hope they can launch a national TV program aimed at a demographic market they see in their own back yards. Described as a cross between MTV and a newsma-gazine for English-speaking Hispanics, ages 18 to 30, TV Ñ hopes to take advantage of the changing demographics showing a larger, younger and more affluent national Hispanic presence.
According to the 2000 Census, 35.3 million Hispanics live in the United States, making Hispanics the nation's fastest-growing demographic group. And younger Hispanics seem to be fueling that growth. Hispanics ages 18 to 24 are expected to number more than 4.5 million by 2005, becoming the largest minority group in that age category.
Luis Vasquez-Ajmac, who operates a Latino advertising and public relations firm, and his business partner, Armando Almanza, owner of a local production company, said they didn't need the numbers to persuade them to start TV Ñ. Vasquez-Ajmac said his friends and the people he encounters every day already convinced him there is a ripe market for the show. "It was a no-brainer," he said. "I look at myself, my staff, other community and business leaders and I think, where's their story?"
The effort highlights not only the growth of entrepreneurship among Hispanics, but also illustrates what some business owners say is a willingness to meld their ethnicity with mainstream business pursuits.
Vasquez-Ajmac and Almanza traveled the country trying to raise $3 million to $4 million to launch TV Ñ, trying to attract advertisers and a network to take on the program. So far, they have one verbal commitment from a major airline and a long way to go. Vasquez-Ajmac said he hopes to get the show on the air by fall.
After years running his own advertising and public relations business, Vasquez-Ajmac said TV Ñ will help fill a media gap that has always annoyed him: The nation is increasingly young, Latino and English-speaking, but few television programs are aimed at this market.
It's no coincidence that the TV Ñ hosts flip between English and Spanish, or what many Latinos call Spanglish. Vasquez-Ajmac said the language identifies the audience as the growing group of second- or third-generation Hispanics who identify with both Latin and American culture.
Harry Pachon, president of Tómas Rivera Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research organization in Claremont, Calif., said second- and third-generation Latinos speak Spang-lish as they begin to acclimate to American culture. "In my mind, there's no doubt that the forces of Americanization are very strong in the Hispanic community," Pachon said. "You learn the English language, you learn to like football and baseball, but you still eat ethnic food and retain your religion."
Spanglish may be a hurdle for TV Ñ. Advertisers already are targeting the Latino market, but most of the ads are in Spanish and run during Spanish-language programs, such as those on Univision. According to the TV Bureau of Advertising in New York, an advertising trade group, the top 50 advertisers spent $546 million in 1999 on Hispanic advertising, a 30 percent increase over 1998.
"It would be safe to say that interest in ethnic marketing has never been higher on the part of advertisers," said Gary Belis, a spokesman for the bureau. Belis said advertisers have been hungry for ways to reach Hispanics because their numbers are growing and they have great buying power.
But he said advertisers might be wary of TV Ñ's English-language approach. In a presentation to advertisers, the bureau suggests, "Hispanics are placing greater emphasis on language and culture, and less emphasis on mainstream acceptance." Another tip states, "50 percent of Hispanics say they remember more about an ad if it's in Spanish."
An English-language program for Hispanics might alienate the Spanish-only speak-ers, Belis said. "Why would you market a program that loses a percentage of viewers?" he asked.
Kenneth Clark, vice president of external affairs for Verizon Communications' Wash-ington operations, said the phone company sponsored TV Ñ's pilot locally and has recommended that Verizon sponsor the program nationally. Clark said he watched TV Ñ's pilot on Channel 9 last November with a group of Latino children. Their reaction, he said, convinced him the program would work. "They were enthralled," he said.
Verizon has not made a decision whether to sponsor the program nationally, he said, but the company wants to target both Hispanic and young people.
"The youth population is growing in the U.S. and is going to become a major economic and political force," Clark said. "They are heavy users of technologies that we're rolling out, and we want to relate to them."