International Channel Seeks Assimilated Italians


It's not just recent immigrants who are prospects for foreign-language programming. Some second-, third- and even fourth-generation Americans are revisiting their roots, now that there are so many ethnic channels available on cable or satellite television.

It takes different marketing tactics to reach multicultural populations that have assimilated into U.S. culture than those used to target recent immigrants, though. Among the most basic decisions: Choosing whether to advertise in English or a foreign language, said International Channel Networks vice president of marketing and communications Jim Honiotes.

"The more assimilated groups tend to consume media about their [ethnic] groups, but in English," Honiotes said.

Many Italian-Americans, for instance, keep up with Italian news and culture through an Italian newspaper published in English.

"In many cases, they can speak but not read Italian," Honiotes said.

ICN distributes Italian network RAI to cable operators. The network is also available in the U.S. through EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network.

Time Warner Cable of New York City vice president of public affairs Harriet Novet said her system issued a press release when the system launched RAI. The news made the front page of America Oggi, a daily Italian-American newspaper.


Although there's a large constituency of Italian-Americans in Brooklyn, "you can't send direct mail to every household there and expect to sell an Italian premium network," Honiotes said.

That's why ICN employs marketing tactics beyond direct mail when it sells its foreign language programming. Ads which ran in America Oggi
last October helped Time Warner's New York system to a 40 percent boost in subscriber growth.

The system was able to move RAI at a cost per sale of less than $8, said Honiotes. The cable operator and ICN also worked together to host a sales incentive contest for customer-service and direct-sales representatives, he added.

Cost per sale is an overriding concern in efforts to target assimilated ethnic-programming customers. Because families that have been in the U.S. for generations are more likely to already be subscribers, "it's not like bringing in new customers to cable" — something marketers might be able to do when reaching more recent immigrants.

The Filipino Channel, also distributed by ICN, has demonstrated it can bring new cable customers to the table, "so the cost per sale is a different calculation," Honiotes said.


Grassroots efforts tend to be effective in reaching multicultural audiences. In addition to advertising in Italian-American media, ICN has promoted RAI through local restaurants and grocery stores or local chapters of the Sons of Italy.

Comcast Corp. of Southeast Michigan's sales manager initiated a word-of-mouth campaign when it launched RAI in December 2000. The MSO frequented local Italian coffeehouses and worked with groups like the Italian Cultural Center.

"Ethnic communities tend to be tightly knit, and it's been true since the first waves of immigrants came in the early 1900s," said Honiotes. "Even as they spread out, they maintain their connections."

For those who choose to target Italian-Americans with direct mail, Honiotes recommends working out a partnership with an Italian newspaper to get access to their mailing list in exchange for heavy advertising runs. Unfortunately, some publications still view cable as a competitior, and may be reluctant to share information about their readers.

Once cable marketers have access to lists of Italian-Americans, they shouldn't worry about paring those rolls down only to consumers who speak Italian, for example. Because many households are multigenerational, even if a homeowner doesn't speak Italian, chances are there's a parent or in-law in the house that does, said Honiotes.