In recent weeks, national media from Newsweek magazine
to ABC's 20/20 to The Oprah Winfrey Show have heralded a Latino breakthrough
in pop culture, citing crossover stars like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez.
There's a Latino media breakthrough of another sort brewing
in the cable and direct-broadcast satellite industries, as a number of video providers
plan to devote newly found bandwidth to Spanish-language programming in an effort to grab
their share of the rapidly growing -- but largely underserved -- U.S. Latino television
Marketers estimated the U.S. Hispanic market at 30 million
people in 8 million households. Latinos are expected to become the largest minority
segment in the United States by 2005, and within the next several decades, they could
represent one-quarter of the U.S. population.
Cable operators investigating new uses for their
digital-channel capacity are considering Spanish-language services -- especially a suite
of channels called "Canales ñ" from Liberty Media Group.
Although many cable systems outside of traditional Latino
strongholds like California, Texas, Miami and New York haven't felt like they had a large
enough Hispanic market to target, that's starting to change -- even in middle America.
Comcast Corp.'s Comcast Cable of Indianapolis, for example,
sells nine Canales ñ video and eight audio channels for $9.95 per month, plus the cost of
digital ($9.95) and basic or expanded basic. Complete costs can range from $30 to $55 per
month, depending on the level of English-language programming selected.
The operator launched its Spanish-language digital tier
early this month, after executives noticed newspaper ads from DBS companies targeting the
local Latino community.
"As I was pounding my head, I thought, 'If they think
there's a market here, then there's a market here,'" Comcast of Indianapolis director
of marketing Ben Baltes said. "Indianapolis -- here in the cornfields of the Midwest
-- is indeed a Hispanic community."
EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network has offered
several Spanish-language channels since its launch in 1996. But it held back on marketing
aggressively to the community until now: It has introduced a 20-channel package called
EchoStar hopes to shift all of its existing Hispanic
subscribers to the new package, which sells for $19.99 per month. The old package sold for
Current customers need second dishes to see Dish Latino
programming from the 110 degrees west longitude orbital slot and mainstream Dish
programming from 119 degrees. For new customers, the company is marketing a new "Dish
500" hardware platform that can see both satellites.
Dish also carries Spanish-language networks Univision and
Galavisión on its "Top 100" package, which sells for $28.99 per month. Access
to all Spanish-language channels would cost nearly $50 per month, but customers need not
subscribe to any English-language programming to order Dish Latino, vice president of
marketing Mary Peterson said.
DBS rival DirecTV Inc. is taking a different approach to
the Latino market, according to Yolanda Macias, director of the company's new
"DirecTV Para Todos" service, scheduled to launch in mid-October.
Instead of adding Spanish programming as a tier on top of
English services, the company plans to create a new Latino service with programming for
everyone in the household.
Because many Latino households tend to be
multigenerational, DirecTV Para Todos will offer a mix of Spanish and English channels, as
well as networks geared toward everyone from children to the elderly, Macias said.
The new service will include two branded-package options,
with pricing and channel quantities similar to DirecTV's English-language "Select
Choice" and "Total Choice" options. Details are expected later this month.
DirecTV Para Todos will have a distinct hardware platform,
apart from the mainstream DirecTV boxes sold by top manufacturers such as Thomson Consumer
Electronics and Sony Corp.
The system will include an 18-inch-by-24-inch dish that can
see satellites at both 101 and 110 degrees. Hughes Network Systems will build the
receivers, which will be branded DirecTV Para Todos.
Channel guides on the new receivers will default to
Spanish, with English as an option. The service will devote one channel to a 60-minute
promotional loop in Spanish.
Not everything on the service will default to Spanish.
Although many premium and pay-per-view movies offer secondary Spanish audio feeds, the
DirecTV Para Todos receivers won't activate them until designated.
"The household is bilingual," Macias said.
"We don't want to move too far to Spanish."
Baltes ran into the English-versus-Spanish controversy when
he began promoting Comcast's Spanish-language tier in local the local media. Phone calls
to radio stations and letters to editors complained that offering too much Spanish
programming would slow down the assimilation of new immigrants into the mainstream
"We say the opposite," Baltes said. "We see
this as a way to push people toward English with our 67 English-language channels."
Peterson said many Hispanic customers also want some
English programming -- especially local news, weather and sports. That's why EchoStar will
pay particular attention to markets where the company can offer local-to-local signals on
its Dish 500 platform when it comes to choosing its initial promotional push for Dish
Other considerations include where the company has strong
Spanish-speaking dealers and the top Latino markets.
DirecTV Para Todos will launch in three markets next month.
Los Angeles will not be one of them, despite its heavy Latino population, Macias said. The
company plans to test its promotional muscle before expanding to new markets. But the
service will be available nationally from the start to customers who want it.
Although all of the companies contacted spoke of the power
of grassroots efforts, DirecTV Para Todos plans an aggressive, multimillion-dollar
advertising campaign to the Spanish community from day one.
"We found that the DBS category does not have high
brand awareness in this community," Macias said, "so we'll spend a lot of time
building brand and category awareness."
DirecTV Para Todos hired a top Hispanic ad agency and a
Spanish-language public-relations firm. When creating marketing messages for the Latino
community, "You could never take an English sentence and just translate," Macias
Marketing their new services regionally will allow DirecTV
Para Todos and Dish Latino to segment the diverse Latino markets, such as Cuban, Tejano
and Mexican. Macias said using regional radio and print ads allows the company to tailor
messages around different dialects and interests.
The various Latino services include Spanish-language
versions of top U.S. cable brands -- such as Discovery Channel, Playboy TV, MTV: Music
Television and Cable News Network -- as well as news, movies, entertainment and sports
channels direct from Latin America.
In addition, Dish offers a variety of special sporting
events targeted toward the Hispanic market.
DirecTV Para Todos subscribers will have full access to
DirecTV's out-of-market sports packages, Macias said, adding that the company hopes to add
Spanish-language commentary on the sports services. That's harder to do than simulcasting
PPV movies, she added, because sports are broadcast live.