Q&A: CAB’s Perkins-Roberts

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Cynthia Perkins-Roberts is vice president of diversity marketing and business development at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, where she is charged with growing membership among programmers and systems targeting the country’s multicultural audiences. A former ABC executive, Perkins-Roberts has worked at CAB for 13 years and this fall completed the bureau’s third Hispanic Marketers’ Guide to Cable, its most comprehensive to date, including for the first time cultural clues and insights to understanding the Hispanic cable audience. Perkins-Roberts spoke to Hispanic TV Update contributor Laura Martínezabout the most recent findings and the continued growth of Hispanic cable viewing. An edited transcript follows:

Q: You just completed the 2008 edition of your Hispanic Marketers Guide to Cable. What would you say were its biggest findings?

A: Number one was the number of options available to the Hispanic marketplace and the networks that are now members of our association. When we did the first guide [in 2003] we had four member networks and now we have about 15. And these are really the leaders in terms of distribution, revenue and brand recognition, but they are also the ones getting about 95% of the advertising dollars. In addition to the number of options, we also saw increased distribution. And this is important because it means that both sides of our industry are getting it: programmers and operators.

Q: You talk about increased distribution. Can you give us some specifics?

A: Well, it used to be that the cable networks were in 5% of Hispanic households … it was great if they were in 10% of Hispanic households. Now, many of our networks are in 30% of Hispanic households, which is great considering where we come from. Of course, Galavision has a much higher penetration than that, probably 70%, followed by Fox Sports en Español. But I would say, overall, the others are in about 30% of the households. Part of it is the systems are adding [Hispanic] tiers to their offers, but part of it has to do with satellite distribution, as DirecTV and Dish understood earlier on that Hispanic consumers wanted more viewing options.

Q: What has changed in the way you approach the Hispanic market?

A: When we did the first guide [in 2003], we were just trying to market to the Hispanic population, period. It’s almost like those who are trying to target African-Americans and think hip-hop is the answer. But you cannot take a one-dimensional approach to marketing to any population segment; you have to understand your consumers and understand their differences. There are Hispanics who speak Spanish; there are Hispanics who don’t speak Spanish … You have bilingual Hispanics; young men, older men, etc. You cannot just say “Hispanic” and put all people of Hispanic or Latino heritage in a bucket. It’s just the same way you have to understand the segments in the general market. The same principles apply.

Q: Your guide takes a close look at Hispanic males, sports viewership and other segments within the Hispanic population. What about women?

A: I think the Latino woman has been harder to reach. And this is partly because programmers haven’t been able to find the right programming mix. But it’s also a loyalty factor; if women grew up with Univision, watching the telenovelas … are they going to switch over and try some new things? In the guide you’ll see there’s an overall shift in viewing, but this is not huge when it comes to Hispanic women. The women shift over the least, and that is because of lack of programming. I think we haven’t come up with a successful combination of programming. I think it will take an Oxygen, a Lifetime or a WE to take up the mantle of the Hispanic marketplace and try to come up with something that is relevant for the Latino women.

Q: Much has been said about the growing number of options out there, but most of the ad dollars are still going to broadcast TV. What does it take for these networks to start monetizing their offer?

A: A number of things have to take place. We have to do an honest assessment of our networks and of our industry. No. 1: Distribution. Thirty percent is nice, but it’s not enough to get all the ad dollars that we want. No. 2: we need measurable results. A number of the networks are now being measured, but not enough are being measured. We need more measurement. In order for the numbers to look the way we want them to look we need distribution. The programmers have been doing their part by investing programming dollars; I think the issue here is distribution.

Q: Do you see this changing soon?

A: All habits die hard. People have relationships and things they’ve been doing for years, but I believe our industry is on the upswing. Even in the general market, marketers are realizing they cannot cast a wide net hoping to attract catch-as-catch-can. They have to be more targeted in their approach to reach the best prospects for their products and services. So goes the general market and so goes the Hispanic market.

Q: What trends do you see happening in the Hispanic marketplace?

A: Marketers are requiring that their advertising agencies be savvier. I also see more general market agencies getting involved in the Hispanic marketplace. The reason is simple: they understand cable; they understand what a particular channel will bring to consumers. And also, they are used to cable; they are used to low ratings! So you don’t need to convince them about why invest in cable. They know cable is a targeted property; that ratings are not going to be 80%, but they also know that cable will deliver a purer concentration of viewers.

Q: Are Hispanic agencies responding?

A: I get a lot more calls from Hispanic agencies than I used to requesting information. I think they are starting to realize that they have to do things differently, because if it’s going to be the cookie-cutter approach, anyone is going to be doing that, and that means they can be replaced. And they don’t want that, because it affects their business model. In addition, we are facing a recession, and cable is not only effective but it is efficient. It costs a lot less than broadcast from a dollars-and-cents perspective and as people have to target more, you don’t have to cast a wide net paying for viewers that are not necessarily going to be watching.

Q: Comcast recently upgraded several Spanish-language networks to digital basic…how do you think this will impact the marketplace?

A: I think what Comcast did is amazing. But things like that come from having internal champions to understand the differences and why things need to be done a certain way. I think many of the systems are still trying to create packages that make sense. The trouble with the tiers is that they limit your distribution. If you are in a market that has 3 million consumers your Hispanic programming is on a tier, for which you have to pay say an extra $5 extra, then it may be only 200,000 out of a 3 million potential on that tier. But then again it’s all a matter of dollars and cents: if you have those 200,000 people on the tier paying that extra money, you’re guaranteed to have that revenue each month. If you put them in basic, you have kissed away that extra revenue, so you have to be assured to have enough sales to make up for that lost revenue.

Q: What does 2009 look like for CAB and Hispanic cable?

A:For me, 2009 is going to be full-speed-ahead within the general market. They are already doing targeted advertising; we just have to help them see the different options that we have. But it’s also going to the Hispanic agencies and working with them to help them have a greater understanding about cable. Doing those two things will help close the [ad revenue] gap. We are also working with the clients directly to help them have an understanding about cable’s targeting abilities and get them to call their agencies and say, ‘Why aren’t we on Fox Sports en Español? Why aren’t we on Galavision?’ It’s really a 3-pronge approach to drive more advertising dollars. Once the systems see the increase ad dollars, nationally and locally, that would circle back to increased distribution. Because, you know, in the end it’s all about money!

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