Diversity is the Key to Cable's Future


This year, the industry's Diversity Week in New York held a multitude of successful events generating a lot of thought, interest, insight, philosophical and financial support, as well as fun and some controversy. People attending these events got ideas for better diversifying their workforce, for marketing their products and services to ethnic audiences, for challenging the status quo, and for renewing and reinforcing their personal and professional diversity commitments.

And this year, perhaps more than any other, we need to be more attuned to this issue. Our country, both economically and politically, is at a dramatic point in time. There has never been a more urgent need to better understand other cultures, to tune in to what's going on in the world at large, and to take action now to build a better future.

As an industry, how can we lead by example — especially in light of the fact that we're in the television and communications business, which is among the most influential of forces?

The answer lies in fully utilizing our industry's strengths to address the issue and having the fortitude to push through the necessary changes. It's what I call the diversity equation — the combination of having our industry's workforce and
our products and services appropriately reflect our customer base. The good news is — and I know you've heard this before, but it's worth repeating — the business will be stronger for it.

A recent viewer survey conducted by International Channel Networks revealed some interesting trends that are replicated in many of our country's multicultural populations. Of the respondents, 69 percent were foreign-born. More than 20 different languages were represented as the primary language spoken in the home.

While respondents had the option of taking the survey in 13 different languages, 71 percent of them chose to take it in English. Given the option of responding online or by mail, 86 percent responded through the Internet. Another 62 percent hold at least a college degree — compared to 24 percent of the total U.S. population.

Of the respondents, 14 percent speak only English, and only 4 percent are in-language dependent, speaking little or no English. And 87 percent would like more native language TV programming than they currently receive, while 60 percent are more likely to purchase a product or service if it's advertised in their own native tongue.

Think about this for a minute. This is an extremely diverse, well-educated, Internet-savvy, multilingual customer base. And they're all cable customers. They're telling us they are able to converse in English, but they want to stay connected to their culture and heritage. Many of us, being second- or third-generation Americans ourselves, aren't far removed from this group. Increasingly, Americans are seeking out their family histories and are eager to learn more about their own ethnic backgrounds.

We're also seeing a resurgence of Americans' interest in other cultures. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
is on its way to becoming the most successful independent film in U.S. box office history. Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, Bombay Dreams, about a young man's desire to become a Bollywood movie star, is a hot ticket in London and is headed to Broadway.

Even the popularity of ethnic foods and flavors continues to grow — according to the USDA's Economic Research Service, Americans' consumption of chili peppers has doubled to almost six pounds per capita since 1980. Which, in a curious way, brings us back to cable.

Our industry has historically been at the forefront of change. We're responsible for a vast array of excellent, thought-provoking, highly entertaining programming. We revolutionized television: how people watch it and how advertisers buy it. We have established several industry organizations and initiatives that continue to pursue workforce diversity. Now it's time to take the next step.

Visit some of your local ethnic groups and communities, and listen to what their members are saying. Diversify your marketing, your advertising and especially your programming to better reflect your customer base. It is working to fulfill both sides of the diversity equation — the industry's workforce and its products and services to customers — that will help fully realize our industry's potential for bringing about a better-informed, more productive and stronger nation.