The acquisition by LATV Networks LLC of an East Coast production company puts the spotlight on the growing role of Latin-oriented culture in English-language media.

The merger will create a wider menu of programming for the combined venture to broadcast in places such as Idaho, not usually thought of as major Hispanic markets.

Los Angeles-based LATV produces shows that are broadcast on KJLA channels 33 and 57, plus 19 stations across the country via new digital technology. On Jan. 21, the network announced a deal to buy American Latino TV, which makes syndicated magazine-format shows "American Latino TV" and "LatiNation." The shows air on about 100 stations each, mostly in Saturday or Sunday time slots.

LATV's programming mostly consists of music videos, and a few lifestyle and comedy programs. Two animation series are in the works, one of them featuring the Homies line of toys.

Both halves of the new entity share the same audience the 18- to 24-year-old bicultural Hispanic, according to Howard Bolter, president of LATV.

But Bolter believes his brand of Latino-oriented English-language TV can win audiences in markets across the country regardless of location and demographic. He points out that LATV recently signed affiliate stations in Pocatello, Idaho, and Jacksonville, Fla. not exactly high-density Hispanic markets.

"We think bicultural programming has appeal worldwide," Bolter explained. "We don't see any impediment to expanding our coverage nationwide."

Robert Rose, the former president of American Latino TV and now a producer for the combined company, hopes the acquisition acts as a catalyst for change in the Hispanic advertising industry.

"Most Latinos are U.S. born and simply do not consume Spanish-language media, especially TV," he said. "There is no way advertisers should be spending over 90 percent of their Hispanic TV ad dollars in Spanish. But Spanish TV and Univision in particular has been the 800-pound gorilla for years. Now the scales are tipping in our favor a bit. There's a long way to go but this merger is the first step, and a big one."

Different picture
Both LATV and American Latino TV were founded on the belief that Hispanics want English-language television with programming that fits their interests.

Rose and Bolter remain committed to that strategy. Rose acknowledged that ABC's "The George Lopez Show" and "Ugly Betty" have gained a foothold in the network schedules, but sees them as the exception.

Julio Rumbaut, a Hispanic television consultant based in Miami, agrees there's a cultural void on TV. "The Disney-ABC production of 'Ugly Betty' is a unique example of a major studio focusing on a Latino-style script that is above all a good script," he said. "Until more majors focus on this, there is room for niche players to provide content to fill this market demand."

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