Hispanic TV Summit: Comcast's Gonzalez Says Change Will Come To Hispanic Lineup

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Comcast's international-content director assured a panel of Hispanic programmers that the top cable operator will bring in new Spanish-language channels, though those channels are not likely to break into the broadest digital tiers.

"Some difficult decisions will be made on the programming slate," Homer Gonzalez III said during a distribution-focused discussion in which he was the only distributor represented.

Jen Ball and Homer Gonzalez panel HTSummit 092011

Responding to a comment by Imagina U.S.'s programming & distribution VP Antonio Briceno that some networks that initially helped populate Hispanic tiers several years ago were still on those tiers, leaving no room for newcomers "new channels and new ideas," Gonzalez said over the last several months he has been studying hundreds of pages of ratings data, independent focus-group reports and other information about Spanish-language channels.

"What I can assure you of is that Comcast's Hispanic programming slate will not be static," Gonzalez said. "Right now I have 60 channels. Hopefully I can put more out there. But in the absence of more bandwidth being out there I have to optimize and keep my package relevant ... You should anticipate changes in the Hispanic programming slate to bring more value to those Hispanic subscribers that we try to service."

Panelists including Clemente Cabello, general manager of Alterna TV, had also commented that multichannel providers' Hispanic tiers have not broken out of a 4-5 million subscriber range despite rapid Hispanic population gains, and distributors might benefit from carrying Spanish-language channels on broader packages, such as Comcast's all-inclusive "D1" digital lineup.

Gonzalez said Comcast considered such a move customer unfriendly for two reasons. Two-thirds of D1 customers do not speak Spanish and shouldn't have to bear the cost of languages they won't watch. And Spanish-speaking subscribers can buy Hispanic tiers for less money than Comcast charges for its broadest, most expensive digital-TV offering.

Early on, Gonzalez emphasized Comcast's value approach to content acquisition, which goes beyond a network's license fee. Other factors include genre popularity (telenovelas and sports, notably, for Hispanics), ratings, production quality, marketing support and engagement through social media and multiplatform extensions.

Jennifer Ball, SVP of distribution marketing at top Spanish-language programmer Univision, said she was "very excited to hear Homer's criteria. We actually have a sales team here who's ready to do a deal with him for the three networks because I think we definitely deliver in terms of brand strength, partnership marketing and ... proven popular content, which is what Univision delivers." Univision has announced plans to launch three new cable networks, one with telenovelas, another with sports and a third with news.

"I did stress value," Gonzalez said after Bell's comments, getting some laughs.

Camilo Bernal, affiliate relations director for MegaTV, said a challenge for networks is obtaining meetings that include all the right people at a given distributor, including marketing and customer-service officials in addition to acquisition negotiators.

He also said distributors tell programmers they should find partners to provide other popular content, and music-focused MegaTV had done so via a relationship with ESPN Deportes. "We're going to have car racing in the morning and a concert in the afternoon on the same Saturday," Bernal said.

Briceno said the economics of being in a Hispanic tier make it difficult to produce original programming.

And Ball said Univision's efforts to get Spanish-speaking viewers to watch video on demand enhanced the entire VOD platform.

Bob Watson, the former programming VP in Time Warner Cable's flagship New York City system who now has a consulting firm, Watson Media Group, in Charlottesville, Va., moderated the panel at the Sept. 20 Hispanic Television Summit.

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