Minority Nets Prefer Cable, Explore Options

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New York -- Minority viewers are hungry for programming that reflects themselves and their culture, according to executives of several upstart services targeting people of color.

But if MSOs are slow in rolling out such networks, the industry may lose quality programming -- and, eventually, subscribers -- to other emerging distribution platforms such as broadband and the telcos, according to network executives speaking Monday at the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications Conference here.

With the continued population growth of minority groups in the United States, executives from The Africa Channel, Caribbean-based Tempo network, Middle East-based news service Al Jazeera International and Asian-American-oriented AZN Television said there is increasing demand for cable operators to provide programming that appeals to such audiences.

The industry, though, has historically been slow to launch minority-targeted networks.

But unlike their predecessors, the panelists said cable isn’t the only distribution platform available to reach their respective audiences.

While it seeks cable distribution, Al Jazeera International commercial director Lindsey Oliver said the service could be streamed via broadband if operators are slow to reach carriage agreements. She added that there is significant U.S. interest in the global news service -- more than 85% of e-mails and visits to the network’s Web site (www.aljazeera.com) are from Americans.

“If you’re not providing the news and information that people want, then the industry will lose out,” Oliver said.

Still, cable remains the preferable distribution source for these networks, and executives said there’s pent-up demand for such programming.

“There’s an incredible interest in seeing oneself on television,” said Frederick Morton, founder of MTV Networks-owned service Tempo. “What we’re talking about is going to core and true identity of people.”

Africa Channel general manager and executive vice president Bob Reid added that the appeal of such networks extends beyond their respective target audiences. “Everyone wants to see quality programming and everybody wants to be informed and entertained,” he said.

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