Matching Local Systems With the Right Lineups

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Comcast Corp.’s senior multicultural marketing director Mauro Panzera likes to talk, sometimes in two or more languages at a time — he speaks four.

“[Panzera] has a wonderful gift with the word. He has enthusiasm, energy and a tremendous sense of perspective,” Comcast vice president of marketing John Vonk said. “He has a wonderful ability to shuffle through the myriad opportunities in a fast-growing space like ethnic and determine what we need to focus on.”

As the lead executive on multicultural programming at the largest cable company, Panzera wields enormous influence as to which channels targeting the African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic communities make it and which don’t. The reason: Without carriage on Comcast, it is difficult for any multicultural network to thrive.

Comcast carries over a hundred channels targeting multicultural and immigrant audiences. While most are channels for Hispanics, there are also networks aimed at, among others, Filipinos, Koreans, Russians as well as the Islamic community in the U.S.

“My decision is driven by a market demand and by what our [local] systems want to offer their varied community,” said Panzera. “We make sure we offer the best products and services at the best value proposition.”

Panzera has pushed hard to ensure that the multicultural channel lineup matches the population of each regional division. “In the Boston area, we really focused on Dominicans and Puerto Ricans,” he said. “In Miami on Cubans, Puerto Ricans and South Americans; [and in heavily Mexican markets,] we launched regional Mexican networks.” According to Vonk, one of Panzera’s most important achievements in 2005 was convincing Comcast executives of the need to staff at least some of the regional divisions with ethnic marketing specialists.

“I am the keeper of the multi- cultural faith at Comcast,” said Panzera. By definition, he is also the gatekeeper, and his comments carry weight with programmers.

“I never discourage anybody,” he explained. “I just constructively criticize [and] always recommend they keep up their quality. [We] work very closely with our local systems to do grassroots marketing. Quality and grassroots; that is the one-two punch.”

Negotiations between networks and Comcast can be lengthy, and the cable operator is known for driving a hard bargain. Vonk said that negotiations are often “very sensitive [and] very challenging,” yet Panzera is “just very positive from beginning to end.”