Media All-Star: Lucia Ballas-Traynor

NEW YORK It seems only fitting that Lucia Ballas-Traynor’s 16th floor office in the Viacom building overlooks the “crossroads of the world” in Time Square. She’s within earshot of the exuberant youth market that today embodies the successful relaunch in September 2006 of the bilingual music channel MTV Tr3s.

Like many young Latinos clamoring outside the MTV studios in midtown Manhattan for the chance to watch their favorite artist perform at a taping of the channel’s hit show MiTRL (a version of MTV’s TRL), svp and general manager Ballas-Traynor knows what it’s like to straddle the duality of an American lifestyle with her Chilean heritage.

“I’ve lived what they’re living,” says Ballas-Traynor, 42. She brings her own infectious energy and enthusiasm to her role as Latina-in-chief of MTV Tr3s—a job that’s often part executive, educator, marketing guru, trend-maker/watcher and market analyst.

The attribute that has earned Ballas-Traynor a spot as a Media All-Star can best be described as innovator. As a longtime network chief with a track record building the coveted 18-34 demo at Galavisión, where she held the gm title for eight years, she looked to the successful mass-market distribution approach employed by Univision and Telemundo, then set out to relaunch MTV Tr3s as a hybrid cable-satellite broadcast system.

She oversees the widely distributed music channel aimed at bicultural youth, ages 12 to 34. MTV Tr3s currently reaches 28 million TV households overall and 5.5 million Hispanic TV households, which is nearly half the 11.6 million Hispanic TV households in the United States.

Though the MTV Tr3s strategy was seen at the time as a dramatic departure for the MTV network, which was built on cable, the gamble seems to have paid off. Since the launch, the music channel has widened its distribution to 35 low-power broadcast stations, including affiliates in San Antonio and Phoenix, as well as a key partnership with KBEH-TV, Channel 63, in Los Angeles.

The relationship with KBEH gives MTV Tr3s an immediate boost of potential viewers who don’t have cable, expanding the channel’s visibility nationally in the top 40 U.S. markets and putting KBEH into every household in the No. 1 Spanish-language market.

“With Latinos, having a local presence in a market is extremely important,” Ballas-Traynor says. “It makes a big difference to be a part of that market and to have a local station that represents your brand and your channel.”

And for MTV Tr3s, what a difference nearly a year makes. The music channel formerly known as MTV Español, originally formed in 1999, was not resonating with Generation Next. That’s when MTV network chief Christine Norman tapped Ballas-Traynor to find a way to make the network’s Spanish cousin sing.

“No one thought there was a market to advertise to young people, no one thought they were going to watch a bunch of music videos, long-form shows and pro-social campaigns,” Norman says. “We’ve built a valuable brand globally on that notion, and Lucia is taking all of those core values and infusing them into MTV Tr3s in all the right ways.”

Call it pride, passion or just following her gut, but Ballas-Traynor often draws on her bicultural experiences to help frame the strategic vision for the music channel aimed at bicultural youth.

“MTV Tr3s offers what in many ways MTV offers,” says Nancy Tellet, vp/director of media services and strategic planning at Siboney, which buys commercial airtime for Colgate MaxFresh, an active youth target brand on the music channel. “They take your client and your brand and associate it with an authority to youth, then find compelling ways to integrate the brand into things like product placement.”

What’s more, MTV Tr3s is reaching out to this young tech-savvy market in its preferred mode of communication via text messaging and mobile phone. “Technology is part of the DNA of today’s kids,” Ballas-Traynor says. “You can’t have programming alone. You must have a multiplatform based in technology because they text back and forth, they send each other IMs. And they do it in English and in Spanish.”

In March the channel launched mobile music channel, MTV Tr3s Mobile, which Verizon, Amp’d and Sprint offer to subscribers and features content from MTV Tr3s programs Pimpeando and MiTRL.

For Ballas-Traynor, the music channel is also about establishing a sense of community with this young audience.

“This is something that I can give back to the new generations [of Latinos] that many are choosing to ignore or underserve,” says the married mom of two. “It’s not just professional but personal fulfillment for me. It’s about giving my kids something I never had.”