The nation's two top cable operators have put the notion of accelerating high-speed Internet penetration among Latino consumers into motion.
Within the last month, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable have launched cable-modem promotional campaigns directed at their Spanish-speaking customers. Comcast's effort covers the Miami DMA and portions of Dade County, Fla., where cable's biggest operator acquired 250,000 AT&T Broadband basic subscribers.
Cross-channel spots and direct-mail pieces are being deployed in South Florida.
Time Warner Cable's current Latino thrust is in Houston, through a series of TV ads airing on the local Univision broadcast affiliate. Univision benefits from co-branding recognition with Road Runner on the spots.
Time Warner counts some 700,000 basic-cable households in Houston, Galveston and surrounding communities.
Elsewhere, Americalist Media Marketing Inc., a telemarketing and direct-sales marketing firm, is creating direct-mail pieces in Spanish specifically for Internet access campaigns. Insight Communications Inc. and operators associated with the National Cable Television Cooperative are interested in using Americalist's literature, according to an NCTC representative.
All of this activity centers on the burgeoning Hispanic population, which reached the 37 million plateau (as of July 1, 2001) to become the nation's largest minority group, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in January.
Latinos and other people of color are also the audience likely to buy and use such advanced cable services as high-speed Internet access, according to numerous research reports.
But with specific language and cultural issues facing them, operators are not going to rush into multiple markets with self-produced Latino access efforts.
"We are, like others at this point, doing our homework on how to attract this audience," said Road Runner group vice president of marketing Gregg DiPaolo.
That mindset opens the door for independent outfits like Americalist — an experienced Latino-marketing hand in other industries —to step in with support and guidance.
"Anytime I mention that there's an Hispanic focus in our strategy, there's an excitement, even relief in an operator's response," said account executive Heidi Martinez, who attended the CableConnects show in San Antonio last month. "The high-speed marketing formula hasn't been perfected for a lot of these people."
Comcast didn't move forward with its Miami-area Internet promotion until customer service, installation and billing functions were in sync with its marketing plans.
"This is a customer experience," Atlantic division online director Steve Satler said. "The phone call someone makes goes to a bilingual customer service rep. The customer gets a bilingual installer to enter their home, and their high-speed bill can be Spanish-only on request."
The cross-channel messages, running on Cable News Network, TNN: The National Network, ESPN, TBS Superstation and others, tout Comcast's own high-speed brand. Although speed, e-mail and always-on capability are stressed — as they are in general-market spots — those themes are tied to points over convenience, communication and lifestyle empowerment, Miami online marketing manager Jason Bucierka said.
Operators must demonstrate empowerment in some fashion if they want to score Latino sales, Martinez said.
"You want to show how Internet access will enhance living on a daily basis as a way to reach out to relatives or shop easier. Have the focus be simple and clear, on value," she said.
Comcast, like Time Warner, wants campaign partnerships with Spanish-language TV channels, and is in discussions with both Univision and NBC-owned Telemundo.
DiPaolo believes Time Warner will develop a few "best practices" in Houston, which Road Runner can then make available to its 4,200 cable system affiliates nationwide later this year. With an extant Latino base among its 2.6 million-subscriber universe, Road Runner is exploring the creation of Spanish or bilingual content for its product, using independent sources.
"We have to work on that side of the coin to make it more appealing to this audience," DiPaolo said.