Public TV Airs a New Spanish Voice

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wild animals, rock stars, lost skiers, Mexican presidents, gun-toting guerrillas, Bangkok taxi drivers, death-cult worshipers, crusading reporters, yoga instructors, celebrity chefs and the Cookie Monster don't usually hang out in the same television neighborhood.

But that's a sampling of the programming on V-me, the 24-hour Spanish-language digital channel that Maryland Public Television launched in this market Monday.

The effect might be disorienting to any viewer accustomed to the strict rules of the 300-channel-plus universe, whereby extreme sports, thriller movies, political yakkers, fast cars, exotic travel and wholesome cartoons stick to their own home on the dial.

V-me-- pronounced "veh-meh" (a play on the Spanish phrase "veme," or "see me") -- renders the familiar formulas in Spanish and invites them onto a single lineup.

But was anyone watching? Monday's fare included a documentary on the rise and fall of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas, skillful in-the-streets reportage on Mexican devotees of "Saint Death," and interviews with a leading Latina environmentalist and the Latino executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

All those shows aired hours after executives of MPT and V-me and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced the service, carried in much of Maryland on Comcast digital Channel 201.

However, V-me is not available to Comcast cable subscribers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- home to the vast majority of Latinos in the state -- or to cable subscribers in the District or Northern Virginia. (It is also available in parts of Maryland through Verizon's digital cable service on Channel 881.)

On Monday, Brown and Latino advocates began urging customers to contact Comcast about expanding V-me's reach. Yesterday, a spokeswoman elaborated on Comcast's distribution decision: The company does not typically carry the digital signals of more than one public television outlet in the same market, and subscribers in Montgomery, Prince George's and elsewhere across the Washington area receive the digital signal of WETA, spokeswoman Jaye Linnen said.

Linnen said Comcast evaluates all its programming "based on customer interests" and other variables, but so far, "I haven't seen a flurry of customer calls."

V-me executives said WETA earlier decided not to carry the new channel. WETA did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Launched in March, V-me is carried by public television affiliates in 23 markets nationwide.

Outside its limited digital reach, the only way to see V-me in this market is the old-fashioned way: with an antenna, over the air. In much of the local market, the signal can be picked up on Channel 22.3 with a digital TV, according to MPT.

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