Cablevision Systems Corp. deployed a Latino digital tier to its New York City metropolitan area households last week, seven months after Time Warner Cable, the other MSO serving the area, launched a similar venture.
Organized as an adjunct of its iO: Interactive Optimum digital and interactive-TV package, Cablevision's tier started out with 28 Spanish-language networks, as well as World Picks: Latino, a video-on-demand service programmed by Cablevision unit Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.
The package is branded iO en Español, and customers can get it for $14.95 per month, no matter the level of service they currently take.
Also, Español subscribers will receive much of the current iO English lineup, including digital audio from Music Choice and such VOD attractions as Mag Rack.
For the moment, the package is available to Cablevision customers in New York City's boroughs of the Bronx and Brooklyn, and in Hudson County and Newark, N.J. Distribution will expand to other areas where iO is available over the next few months.
Cablevision executives believe the package's diverse programming palette and its $14.95 price point should attract a wide Latino audience. As many as 4 million people of Latino decent live in the New York metro area, according to recent estimates.
"For $14.95 more, a broadcast-basic sub paying $10 a month already will get a great variety of channels as well as VOD," noted Cablevision vice president of digital product strategy Matthew Weiss. "It's a huge subscriber-acquisition opportunity for us. The key is making this as accessible and affordable to this marketplace as we can."
The Espanol programming has been under consideration since Feb. 2002, four months after the original iO service was introduced on Cablevision's home base on Long Island. Various programmers, research firms and Latino market consultants were approached for guidance, while Weiss and his team studied direct-broadcast satellite Spanish tiers and rollouts by Time Warner Cable and other MSOs over the last year.
And with all the new Spanish-language channels launching from independent owners in 2003, "it's a fantastic time to get into this," Weiss said.
Channels in the iO en Español mix include CNN en Español, Canal Sur, Discovery en Español, La Familia Network, Sorpresa, Fox Sports World Español, mun2 Television, MTV Español and Puma TV.
Services distributed to cable operators through OlympuSAT Inc., Condista and International Channel Networks' Canales ñ venture are also represented, along with all-soccer service Gol TV, believed to be the network's first cable clearance anywhere.
"Variety is what's worked for cable all these years, and that's the model we used here to make our selections. You have family programming, movies, news and documentaries, sports, even science fiction," Weiss explained.
"We also wanted to serve the various groups within the Latino community, so there's product from Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico and other countries as well as U.S.-produced material."
Two channels will be added to Español by mid-August, once contracts are finalized. NY1 Noticias, Time Warner Cable's month-old Spanish counterpart for NY1 News, is among the channels contending for future placement.
"One advantage cable has over DBS is original localized programming, so we'll see how much demand Noticias attracts," Weiss said.
With mun2 on already, other English-language services aimed at Latinos or a crossover audience, such as Sí TV and LA TV, are also under consideration.
Local Univision, TeleFutura and Telemundo broadcast stations appear on Cablevision's basic lineup outlets; Galavisión runs on expanded basic.
Cablevision reaches about 2.95 million subscribers. More than 401,000 subscribers had taken iO as of March 31, according to the company's quarterly financial report.
World Picks will feature 20 hours of Spanish VOD content per week, acquired from sources worldwide. Nightly dramas or novellas, movies, sports and educational programs will be highlighted. A quarter of the schedule will be refreshed weekly.
Still to come: the role Spanish-language services will have in Cablevision's proposed Rainbow DBS venture, due in October. Executives will not release programming details of the venture until its premiere.