Comcast Cites Hispanic Gains

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San Francisco— Comcast Corp. revealed some of the first statistics that give a glimpse of how effective some of the country’s largest MSOs are getting in attracting Hispanics with new-and-improved Latino packages.

Comcast has gained more than 250,000 subscribers for its Hispanic package of channels, which it launched about two years ago.

That’s according to vice president of video products John Vonk, who gave the keynote address at a breakfast session organized by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable’s Hispanic Television Update e-newsletter.

It’s particularly important because Comcast research has also determined that its direct-broadcast satellite competition made significant gains in 2004. EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network and DirecTV Inc. combined to add some 490,000 customers to their Hispanic tiers in that year, representing a gain of 43% to 1.5 million customers, according to Vonk.

Comcast — the country’s largest cable operator, with more than 21 million subscribers — has determined that about 14% of its homes passed are Hispanic households, according to Vonk.

While he did not predict how quickly Comcast’s Hispanic customer base will grow in future years on a percentage basis, he did say it is one of the MSO’s fastest-growing customer sectors, and that the growth will be “significant.”

He added that Comcast’s high-speed Internet service is getting a high take-up rate from Hispanics, although the numbers lag those from the general market. That’s in line with the trend of Latinos purchasing computers later than mainstream America.

Another MSO executive who spoke at the breakfast — Cox Communications Inc. director of multicultural marketing César Cruz — noted that since his company relaunched an Hispanic package of channels less than half a year ago, it has grown its Hispanic-tier customer base by 50%, although he would not give specific numbers.

Charter Communications Inc. senior vice president of sales and multicultural marketing John Figueroa also dropped word that his company will launch its long-awaited Hispanic package in May. The gains any platform makes in adding customers to Hispanic tiers doesn’t equate to the same amount of money made from the general public. Hispanic-tier subscribers average 15% to 20% less revenue than non-Hispanic subscribers, according to Vonk. That’s largely because they don’t buy through English-language tiers.

But that’s also because many of those viewers are are new to cable TV, he noted, and that gap should narrow over time.

Another source noted that while the revenue might be less, MSOs generally enjoy higher margins with Hispanic packages because of lower programming costs. Vonk would only say: “We’re pleased with our performance.”

Another speaker at the session, Raúl de Quesada of Fox Sports International, urged cable operators to fine-tune their marketing messages. He noted consumer marketing messages from satellite TV give their slant on cable’s shortcomings in “every breath.”

In comparison, he said, cable marketing material tends to ignore the competition. This leaves consumers “confused.”

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