August 20, 2006

Disney reaches out to Latinas with “Cheetah Girls”

By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Disney Channel plans to welcome
Spanish-speaking and Latino children to its audience as never
before when it runs a Spanish-language version, with English
subtitles, of its upcoming music-and-dance movie "The Cheetah
Girls 2" during prime time.

The children's cable network -- enjoying its highest
ratings ever this year from the popularity of original movies
such as "High School Musical" and series like "Hannah Montana"
-- plans a big marketing push in the Latino community behind
"Cheetah" and its message of diversity.

"The Cheetah Girls 2," a sequel to the 2003 movie that
became a huge hit with preteen girls, will be close-captioned
in English and Spanish starting from its August 25 premiere. On
September 15, it will run in Spanish with English subtitles.

Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, said the
"Cheetah" promotion simply plays on a strength the network
already has with minority audiences, who tune in to the Disney
Channel at greater rates than other English-language networks.

"It seemed that it was the right movie to make that
effort," Ross said. "We have to start trying more things to
speak to more people."

The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies estimates
that $5 billion is spent on advertising to the U.S. Hispanic

The buying power of the 41 million U.S. Hispanic consumers
is expected to rise to nearly $900 billion this year and $1.1
trillion by 2010, accounting for 9 percent of all U.S. buying
power up from 5 percent in 1990, an AHAA spokeswoman said on

Carl Kravetz, AHAA chairman and head of the Cruz/Kravetz
IDEAS advertising agency, said Disney "is no better or no worse
than any other network" in trying to reach Spanish-speaking

"We are in an era of experimentation from a language
perspective," Kravetz said. "Networks are trying to figure out
what it's going to take to attract Spanish-speaking audiences
to English-language television."

CBS launched the first primarily Spanish-language program
on network television in 2000 with the Latin Grammys, which
have since moved to Spanish-language television.

The Walt Disney Co-owned ABC network this year remade the
popular Spanish soap opera "Betty La Fea" as "Ugly Betty," and
its sitcom "Freddie" features a character who speaks entirely
in Spanish with English subtitles.

But running the Spanish-language version of "Cheetah Girls"
is a first, Kravetz said.

"They are dabbling. They are trying different things to see
what works," he said.

Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks who
recently won a Producers' Guild diversity award, said the
company has gleaned its understanding of its marketplace
through such initiatives as offering its prime-time programming
dubbed in Spanish.

"If anything, this is going to be a huge learning
experience for us. We are going to monitor it very closely,"
Sweeney said of the "Cheetah" Spanish-language debut.

Disney wanted to emphasize diversity -- racial and economic
-- as well as "empowerment and unity" when it came up with the
idea for the first "Cheetah Girls" movie in 2003, about four
New York teens who aspire to a recording contract, Ross said.

Only one of the Cheetahs -- Dorinda, played by soap star
Sabrina Bryan -- is white, and she lives in a foster home.
Group leader Galleria, played by former "Cosby Show" star
Raven-Symone, lives in a luxury brownstone with her fashion
designer parents, a mixed-race couple.

Her best friend, Chanel, is Latina and lives in a funky
flat with her divorced-but-dating model mother, while brainy
Aquanetta, who is African-American, lives with her father.