Ethnic Content Can Help Fill Digital Gap

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New York-Creating content specifically for ethnic minorities would help to bridge the so-called "digital divide," said a number of speakers on a new media panel at last week's National Association of Minorities in Communications'Urban Markets Conference here.

Hispanics and African Americans still trail the U.S. average in terms of the percentage of households online, panelists noted. However, those ethnic minorities that do use the Web are more active participants in electronic commerce and music downloads.

"The digital gap persists," said Cyber Dialogue senior media analyst Idil Cakim.

Community-affairs efforts that extend broadband-Internet services to predominantly ethnic neighborhoods are only part of the solution, because it's not just a matter of access and income. Cakim noted that 53 percent of ethnic households with incomes higher than $50,000 per year are still not online, and 46 percent of ethnic minority households with incomes over $75,000 per year also remain offline.

Many consumers who are not yet online say they see no need to go to the Internet, Cakim said. Those who use the Web tend to do so for both business and leisure.

Strong entertainment content can help draw ethnic minorities online, especially if it's not widely available elsewhere.

In reaching the U.S. Hispanic market, it's important to offer content with an American focus, and not just news and information imported from the target audience's countries of origin, said Galavision general manager Lucia Ballas-Traynor.

"Once you decide to uproot your family and transplant them, your whole value system changes," Ballas-Traynor said. "Content relevant back in the home country is no longer relevant here in the U.S."

DME Interactive Holdings Inc. created a division targeted to the urban market called Places of Color "to create relevant experiences to engage people to go online," marketing director Jared Leake said.

Attracting ethnic minorities is a three-fold challenge, Leake said. The issues include content, affordability and access to infrastructure.

"We wanted to remove all barriers of entry for people of ethnic descent," Leake said. The company will help deploy used personal computers so that first-time users can go online more quickly, as well as new equipment so those same users can upgrade as soon as they're ready.

Places of Color also hopes to keep its customers up-to-date on other new technologies, such as wireless-communications devices, which will also offer online services either now or in the future. The company may develop content for wireless phones "so we can keep our minority users on the cutting edge," Leake said.

In order to help spur electronic commerce in the ethnic minority community, the industry also must find "a solution for people who don't have the means to transact on the Web," such as credit cards, Leake added.

Latinflava.com is targeted to the Hispanic market, specifically to "Generation X" and "Generation Y" users, Latinflava Inc. president Tony Martinez said.

Among the site's planned electronic-commerce ventures are the sale of calendars featuring "flava beauties," or models of the day, week and month. The site also plans to sell books by Latin authors that its audience might not find at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.com, Martinez said.

In addition, the company may also create special VIP travel packages to Miami that bundle in passes to top Latino clubs.

"We'll be very proactive in the community," Leake said.

Galavision plans to target its Web site to bilingual, urban Latinos-the same audience that its cable network aims for, Ballas-Traynor said.

"We'll go after the ones that are doing a lot of surfing, but not necessarily finding enough content of relevance," she added.

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