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Local Flavor

Like many kids who grew up in the 1970s, Cynthia Perkins-Roberts watched The Brady Bunch. But as an African-American child in New York City, she could relate only so much to a show about a white family in suburban California. “Something like What's Happening was much more closely tuned to my world,” she recalls.

The point, says Perkins-Roberts, VP of diversity sales and business development at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB), is that cable operators and their local-ad–sales arms must understand how viewers of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds engage with TV programming.

Once an afterthought in local cable advertising, Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American viewers are increasingly on advertisers' radars. And operators are helping advertisers reach them with more culturally sensitive ads and smarter ad buys.

Executives who work in multicultural cable advertising stress that advertisers must begin by understanding multicultural audiences as people, not just as numbers on a Census report.

“If you show that you can relate to me,” Perkins-Roberts says, “then you can motivate me to trust you.”

Phillip Woodie, director of multicultural advertising for Comcast Spotlight, the ad-sales arm of the country's largest operator, agrees. “In the past, people thought they could just take an English-language commercial, dub it into Spanish, and that would be okay,” Woodie says. “It's like anything else. It has to resonate with us and touch us in some way.”

Minding “Core Values”

Bill Georges, senior VP of affiliate and advertising sales for AZN Television, works with media-buying agencies that use the Asian-American cable network to reach large concentrations of Asian-Americans in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other large urban markets.

He urges advertisers to be mindful of viewers' “core values” and to frame messages “in a context people dream in and believe in” through such simple tactics as casting Asian-American actors.

However, Woodie cautions against regarding each audience as “this homogenous entity that's out there,” particularly in a population as large and dynamic as the Hispanic segment, which represents close to 15% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Indeed, CAB's new handbook, Hispanic Cable Facts 2006, which lists 10 ad-supported Hispanic-targeted networks, includes a variety of networks aiming to parse the Hispanic audience into niches.

For example, NBC Universal Cable's Telemundo offshoot mun2 and the independently owned SíTV target young, bilingual or English-speaking Latinos, while Galavisión, among the biggest Hispanic-targeted networks, draws larger Spanish-speaking adult audiences.

Woodie, who worked for the Spanish-language network Azteca America before joining Spotlight, says that offering a package of these channels helps advertisers reach different segments within an ethnic audience.

The same is true for advertisers that target African-American households, says Michelle Rice, senior VP of national accounts and affiliate marketing for the African-American– targeted TV One network. Launched in 2005, TV One aspires to reach an older crowd than its African-American category rival, Viacom Inc.'s BET.

That sort of positioning has helped TV One become an instant hit in Detroit, where African-Americans make up more than 60% of the population and where the network ranks among the top five local-advertising–revenue producers for Comcast Spotlight.

Rice also encourages advertisers to broaden their media buys across multiple networks to extend their reach and frequency, suggesting to cable affiliates that they package TV One with Lifetime Television, TNT and other broad-appeal brands in order to reach a cross-section of African-American viewers.

Making a “Conexión”

Many affiliates are listening. In Detroit, Comcast Spotlight packages local-ad avails from BET, TV One and other networks to deliver a demographic cross-section encompassing both younger viewers and African-American adults 25-49. The addition of TV One as a local-insertion channel has helped the Detroit operation better manage inventory against its demographic targets in a market where local avails on BET historically have sold out rapidly, says Woodie.

In Los Angeles, where close to 40% of residents are Latino, the cable advertising interconnect Adlink has created a division, AdConexión, designed to match advertisers with the nation's largest Hispanic market.

The unit, modeled after Adlink's Sports­Link L.A, bundles together Spanish-language networks Galavisión and Fox Sports en Español with English-language networks such as Nickelodeon, MTV, ABC Family and TNT. Adlink also has published a bilingual media kit to launch the new effort.

Bright House Networks in Tampa, Fla., has been exploring ways to package its inventory, as well as reconfigure its sales approach, to reach a growing Hispanic population that represents more than 10% of the market. Anne Ragsdale, VP of advertising, says the group is considering “whether we want to devote a separate team to it.”

It might be time to do so.