Chicago - Cable's historic channel-capacity disadvantage to satellite in serving ethnic markets is about to be turned around, Comcast VP of international programming and content acquisition David Jensen said during a breakfast panel at Cable Show 2011 Wednesday.
Comcast and other cable operators have been freeing up channel space through such methods as converting analog channels to digital. Comcast's Project Cavalry has enabled the country's top cable operator to roll out a 60-channel Spanish-language package in all major markets, with South Florida being the last, Jensen said.
"Really for the first time, we have the bandwidth throughput to reach these communities with new product," he said. Comcast now has "a strong superiority message, and we're backing that with a lot of marketing dollars."
Going forward, Comcast plans to add IPTV programming to its product offering using MPEG-4 compression, Jensen said. To the extent that is "longer-tail" ethnic programming that complements what cable already offers, that bolsters cable further.
"When cable is finally able to unicast or pointcast ethnic content to specific households, then I think it's game over because our architectural advantages on the cable plant will be so great that we will take back the architectural advantages that satellite has had. That day is like two or three years away. We're starting our first IPTV trials next year," Jensen said.
Even now - without IPTV integrated into the cable mix - the availability of ethnic fare on IPTV works to cable's advantage. Jensen said the most popular ethnic programming carried on cable and satellite can't be streamed online for free, because of their distribution deals.
And Marissa Freeman, SVP of brand strategy & marketing communications at Time Warner Cable, pointed out on the same panel, cable's high-speed online platform "is the very best way to watch IPTV."
Comcast and Time Warner Cable have gone hard after the Hispanic market, particularly, because of the population growth in that segment and the operators' respective presence in such markets as New York City, Los Angeles, Texas and South Florida.
The 2010 Census also showed sharp gains in Asian Americans.
Time Warner Cable has focused on what Freeman called the four Ps: product, promotion, packaging and price. It's rolled out versions of a blended English- and Spanish-language service called El Paquetazo. The New York City version has 140 channels.
On the promotion side, Freeman cited the high-profile launch of Univision's Lo Mejor On Demand service in Times Square in New York and extensive work with popular talent, helped by programming providers.
"We discovered Karen Rodriguez," the 21-year-old New York City woman who made it to the final 13 in the recent American Idol competition and was a Time Warner spokesperson for a big contest promotion, she said.
The panel - which was put on by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable - included some debate about whether foreign-language fare should be included in the most widely distributed digital-cable tiers.
Jessica Rodriguez, SVP at Univision Cable Networks, which has announced plans to launch three cable networks (sports, telenovelas and news) next year, said Univision gets affirmation of its content's broad popularity in the form of nightly ratings. One or two nights a week Univision is the fourth-rated network (ahead of NBC) in the 18-34 demographic, she said, and of the top 50 programs in bilingual Hispanic households, 42 are on Univision. "We are the only ones that are growing in the broadcast space. We are mainstream."
She said a cable channel of Univision soccer-heavy sports content also would help boost cable penetration into Hispanic homes, as El Mejor On Demand helped introduce VOD to Spanish-speaking viewers.
Michael Schwimmer, CEO of Si TV (which is being renamed nuvoTV), an English-language service aimed at Latinos, "disagreed" with some of Rodriguez's points. He said 90% of the TV viewing done by English-dominant Hispanics is in English, and said cable penetration of Hispanic households has already risen to around 83%.
He was putting in a plea for all distributors to put his channel on more broadly distributed digital tiers, as Comcast and Time Warner Cable (in New York City and Los Angeles) have.
Jensen joked that Comcast first put SiTV on a Hispanic tier "and it used to drive Michael nuts." He said Comcast soon realized that wasn't appropriate placement but decided to keep it on there a while longer "because it drives him so nuts."