By Jef With One F
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By Angelica Leicht
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"There is a large portion of the young Latino population in the U.S. that lives in an English-language world," says Sokol. "That audience, which we believe is large and advertiser-friendly, was not being represented anywhere on TV, and we felt that was the sweet spot to go after." To him, switching languages does not create a paradox. "It's an evolution," he says. "What we did in Spanish was good, and I think it would have worked on a long-term basis, but I think the idea of having a predominantly English channel that targets young, urban, bilingual and English-speaking Hispanics is a bigger market and a more available market."
And what about the huge number of South Americans arriving in the country on a daily basis who don't speak English and may feel lost watching the new Mun2? Sokol suggests that they check out Telemundo. Simply put, if you're young but don't speak or understand English, then why don't you watch last year's smash hit reality series Protagonistas de la musica or this year's Protagonistas de novela? Then again, how many people do you know who will mutter a "Thanks, but no thanks"? Probably a lot, but definitely not enough. Not enough to make Mun2 go back to Spanish.
"We launched with music videos, a low-rider show, an extreme sports show and a talk show, all of them relevant among youth," enumerates Foster. She believes that Mun2 has a unique musical blend that includes reggaetón, pop, rock en español and, mostly, hip-hop, the latter of which dominates The Roof. "That's the youth's most important music," she remarks. "Hip-hop is the biggest U.S. export these days. We receive videos from all over Latin America, and we can see how similar they look."
At first Mun2 looked an awful lot like the MTV Latin America of the early '90s, filled with smiling and hyper hosts talking over each other. The difference, though, was in the former network's heavy rotation of hip-hop, R&B and Caribbean sure shots like reggaetón. Another was in Mun2's complete absence of Spanish dubbing or subtitles during its interviews with Anglo celebrities. Though common sense indicates that producers save a considerable amount of time and money when they don't have to create subtitles, Foster says the reason was to promote a bilingual culture.
"As a programmer, I have to admit that I never watched MTV Latin America. It never was our role model," says Foster, who sees the use of music as an international language as the one and only similarity between the two channels. MTV Latin America does not air in the United States; the Hispanic version of the channel is primarily available through digital cable on MTV-ES, which plays a strict diet of Latin videos.
In contrast, Mun2 reaches 5.8 million U.S. households and is broadcast in the top 20 U.S. Hispanic markets through basic cable (sometimes as part of an expanded basic service). According to Foster, the channel's audience has grown dramatically in the quarterly Nielsen television ratings since the talents began speaking English on camera in September. However, Mun2's graphics, look and general mood undoubtedly replicate the widely spread MTV formula. That is, colorful yet baroque TV sets, constantly moving cameras, extreme close-ups and, of course, happy-happy, joy-joy hosts.
Dominican-born Anthony Perez, head of the independent production company Perfect Image and co-producer of 11 shows that air on Mun2 (including The Roof), remembers how viewers' positive reaction to Upbeat, one of the channel's early reggaetón and hip-hop shows, initially prompted the language jump. "When we saw how well things were going with Upbeat," says Perez, "I said, 'Let's go full English,' and we did it." Aside from "stronger rating numbers," Perez swears to be surprised by the "huge reaction" Mun2 gets from Latin American countries. "We're receiving e-mails from all over Latin America, and written in English!" he marvels.
The reggaetón-oriented Jamz, hosted by Puerto Rican rapper Lisa M., and the rock en español show Planeta Rock, with Argentine host Gustavo Coletti, are the two exceptions to the new English-language rules. Truthfully, though, Lisa M. speaks both languages on camera, and Coletti gets less and less time on camera since Planeta Rock is turning into a Hispanic version of VH1's Behind the Music with plenty of Spanish-language voice-overs. But Planeta Rock's content will never go 100 percent English because "most of the band members in the alternative Latin rock world don't speak English," offers Perez, who produces both shows.
But Perez anticipates some other changes, like promoting thirtysomething Felix Sama to a street reporter who will bring daily content to The Roof. WEDR-FM (99.1) DJ Frankie Needles, born in Miami to a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, will eventually entirely replace Sama on the studio turntables. "He is a product of the generation that I'm targeting right now," says Perez of the 23-year-old. But the final plan, according to the producer, is to later replace Needles, too, and bring in an even younger generation of college DJs.
One veteran from the previous Mun2 incarnation is Ricky Marchosky, a 34-year-old born in Panama and one of the hosts of Chat, an English-language talk show that originally aired in Spanish. Marchosky loves the one-hour show's live, interactive format because it allows viewers to exchange ideas and discuss controversial topics without editing. In fact, he surprised its original Latin American audience by coming out of his own closet, which is not seen too often in a Latin culture that is classically macho-oriented. Aware that his American audience is a little more open-minded, he now continues the closet saga in English. "We can have a show together," he once laughed on camera to The Roof's Venezuelan co-producer Mari Urdaneta. "We should call it Mari-con-Ricky."