Hispanic TV Summit: To Tier or Not To Tier?

Execs Say Hispanic Nets Need to Break Free of Tier Restraints

New York – Executives at several top Hispanic networks said pigeon-holing channels by placing them in tiers impedes their development, at Wednesday’s Multichannel News/B&C Hispanic TV Summit.

Nuvo TV senior vice president of distribution and affiliate marketing Judi Lopez said her network is not on a tier – it is available to about 30 million homes on digital and expanded basic – but added that tiering has held back many other channels.

“Tiers are way of isolating costs,” Lopez said. “They are prohibitive because they keep eyeballs away from great content.”

As proof, she noted that Hispanic tiers have between 4 million and 4.5 million subscribers throughout the U.S., a range they have languished in for more than a decade. But Lopez added the tier structure does have one advantage for Hispanic networks – it gives them the incentive to break out.

Lopez said that instead of being placed in tiers, Hispanic networks need great channel positioning, HD capability, good marketing and a good rate.

“What’s happening with Hispanic networks is they get one, maybe another, but not all,” Lopez said. “It takes all to be successful.”

She spoke of an unnamed distributor that has placed Nuvo TV next to the Bravo network in their channel lineup, pays the channel a fair market rate and coupled with strong marketing and the network’s own strong content, “the service is taking off.”

“The expectation that you can just put it on and they [viewers] will come is not true,” Lopez said. Give us the opportunity to get where we are and the runway to get there.”

Other executives pointed to a lack of video on demand and online rights as a roadblock to success for the channels.

Olympusat Holdings CEO Tom Mohler said that over-the-top distributors could end up being a boon for specialty channels like Hispanic networks, helping to solve the problem of minimal VOD and HD distribution.

But one panelist took exception to the criticism of tiers, adding that distributors’ efforts to keep programming costs low have held back some channels.

Jorge Fiterre, a partner in Condista, which represents Spanish language networks reaching about 12 million homes, said that many Hispanic networks placed in tiers already have great marketing and great content. “What it has to do with is the cable operator does not want to add additional cost to the basic tier.”

Mohler added that no one is at fault – that lies in the limitations of the market. And that will change as consumers take advantage of new technologies.

“You can’t have a horse and buggy next to a Ferrari and expect it to sell,” he said.

Some distributors are finding innovative ways to drive viewership of Hispanic channels. Comcast director of multicultural strategy and development Michael D’Emilio said the cable giant is launching a Latino Freeview for customers, with about 1,000 hours of Hispanic content, that should help drive awareness.

There is a lot of content out there,” D’Emilio said. “But without ways to highlight it, that content is difficult to find.”