Gray-Market Dishes Poach Hispanic Sales from Cable


Los Angeles -- Shouts of "Gol!"arebeingheardfrom more and more Spanish-speaking consumers' homes,
as immigrants seek a full-time fix of futbol off the airwaves.

But the concern in Southern border markets is that a
portion of Hispanic consumers are getting programming illegally from Mexico and other
Latin American states -- via satellite.

The dish market is certainly courting these rabid sports
consumers. Look at the Los Angeles market, for instance: The largest Spanish-language
daily, La Opinion, carries more than a half-dozen large ads on any given day for
both C-band and small-aperture dish systems.

In Spanish, the ads advise customers, "Throw away your
cable company."

Some of those packages are sold legitimately: EchoStar
Communications Corp., for example, has a package of programming designed for this ethnic

But some ads boast that their systems receive novelas and
sports programming directly from Mexico and other south-of-the-border locales.

One vendor told Multichannel News that his service,
which he markets under the name "Sky.Com," carries programming from satellite
distributor SkyMexico, allowing immigrants to watch TV from their homeland.

The package also included domestic satellite services such
as Turner Network Television, USA Network, Fox Sports and ESPN that have second-audio
programs in Spanish. According to his ad, his price is comparable with that of domestic
dish programming.

"It's very popular," he said, before he hung

There's a problem, though: SkyMexico's satellite
footprint covers a portion of the Southwestern United States, but it does not sell its
programming in the United States, said Norman Leventhal, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney
for SkyMexico.

"When SkyMexico is made aware of unauthorized use, we
undertake to inform the consumer," he said, adding that the Mexican programming
service has notified papers including La Opinion that SkyMexico programming
can't be sold in the United States.

The programmer also notifies authorities of the illegal
activities. But SkyMexico does not have the money to pursue investigations of its own, he
said. Leventhal added that authorities have not indicated what their responses might be.

Some Los Angeles-area cable operators grumbled quietly
about whether the sale of dishes has cut into basic-only sales (most of the
Spanish-language programming in the area is broadcast, so there would be little reason to
subscribe to a tier).

Publicly, most said growth remains in strong in general, so
any loss to dishes in the Hispanic marketplace is negligible.

"We spend a significant chunk of our marketing budget
to attract Latinos, but not necessarily because of competition," said Scott Tenney,
vice president, Western region for MediaOne Group Inc. "We think that it's a
great opportunity."

Although Tenney has noticed that dish vendors have become
more aggressive in courting Hispanics, his region hasn't noticed a penetration dip.
He opined that those buying dishes either have never had cable, or that MediaOne is
picking up more new cable customers than it is losing to dish sellers.

He was confident that new Hispanic networks, added when
digital-service tiers are introduced, would aid retention further.

Even if operators are alarmed by the
"gray-market" dishes (authorized at addresses below the border, then transported
here for sale), there's probably little that security experts could do.

"[Cable's] not the direct victim," explained
Mike Bates, security director for MediaOne's Western region. Operators may be losing
revenue to an unauthorized competitor, but the real victim is SkyMexico, and that company
would have to pursue redress.

DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar's Dish Network pursue
gray-market violations and try to stop exportation of their hardware for use in Mexico or
Canada, representatives said. But they don't get involved in the "reverse gray
market," representatives added, where hardware is authorized elsewhere and
distributed in the United States.

The impact of the signal piracy is already apparent, some
programmers said, cutting down on the live gate at events under SkyMexico's footprint
and trimming pay-per-view take rates.

Doug Jacobs, a partner in Innovative Sports Marketing,
which stages sporting and other events, attributed the underperformance of a Bolivia
versus Mexico soccer event earlier this year to piracy. That matchup -- held in the Los
Angeles Coliseum under the name "Nike U.S. Cup" -- captured one-half of the gate
and PPV sales that he anticipated.

The game was licensed to Televisa for broadcast in Mexico.
But Televisa is on the SkyMexico platform, so homes and bars with illegal dishes watched
the event free-of-charge, Jacobs believes.

"I don't blame the broadcasters," Jacobs
said. "It's not them per se."

But he added that in the future, he hopes to negotiate his
rights deals to avoid the piracy problem. He hoped that the deals would require SkyMexico
to carry games on a tape-delayed basis, so that the live events had enforceable blackouts
in the United States.

"That way, Mexico can watch the game using their
antennas. I think that we can do it in the rights [negotiations], or we just won't
sell it to them," Jacobs said.

The reception situation also has executives at Fox Sports
World Español concerned.

Fox Sports has the U.S. rights to 26 Copa America games,
nine of which, including the championship, are destined for the Spanish-language network.
Ratings performance of the games will be responsible for a "big chunk" of the
network's revenue, general manager Dan Casey said.

The games are such a ratings magnet that they are rerun in
primetime, and they do almost as well as the live events, he noted.

But if consumers illegally watch the games on Mexican
rights holder Televisa, this could cut into U.S. viewership.

"We're going to find out the hard way [regarding
viewership loss]," Casey said.

The network hasn't gone as far as to send
cease-and-desist letters to the questionable vendors. "I'm guessing that
there's not a lot of service after sale," he joked, suggesting that this will do
in the ventures.

Ironically, Fox Sports World Español intends to meet with
Spanish-language media about co-sponsorships of Copa America marketing. Casey noted that
this would be a good time to bring up the questionable ads.