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Melinda Witmer Says TWC’s Goal Is to be Hispanic Viewers’ Choice

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In New York, the local news is delivered in Spanish as well as English. In Los Angeles, fans of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers also have that second-language option for game telecasts. Time Warner Cable has long pushed forward in reaching out to Latinos in many ways, including marketing and customer communications, but it was the company’s longstanding commitment to programming — particularly the debut of NY 1 Noticias (news) a decade ago and Time Warner Cable Deportes (sports) last year — that earned the No. 2 U.S. MSO the Leadership in Hispanic Television Award, to be presented at the Hispanic Television Summit on Oct. 2. Broadcasting & Cable/Multichannel News contributor Stuart Miller spoke with Time Warner Cable executive vice president and chief video and content offi cer Melinda Witmer about the MSO’s eff orts in reaching out to Latinos.

MCN: How successful has NY1 Noticias been?

Melinda Witmer:
Noticias has been a part of our family of offerings for a decade. It shows that our effort to take our relationship to the Hispanic community to another level has been part of our DNA for a long time. We are still the only local Spanish-language news channel that is on 24 hours a day. So it was not only significant back then, it still stands out today as a service to the community.

MCN: Could you see Time Warner Cable replicating that effort elsewhere?

MW: We are looking very closely at the possibility of expansion into other markets, potentially including Los Angeles. But it is a very significant investment and we need to balance it with the need for improvements in our operations and other areas of our business. We do want to deliver more news and more Spanish-language news to consumers, so we continue to look into it.

MCN: When did the company decide to devote even more resources to Hispanic viewers, and what was the impetus behind the move?

MW: Over the last five years, there has been an increasing focus. Our moves have been multifaceted and include marketing and other ways of engaging with the consumer beyond programming.

The decision came from the realization that we have, given our geographic location in markets like New York and Los Angeles, one of the most significant Hispanic footprints of any operator in the country. First and foremost, it is about being competitive, about being the provider of choice to the Hispanic community.

MCN: Time Warner Cable Deportes was born when your company created Time Warner Cable SportsNet, a regional sports network in Southern California. What was the motivation for that decision?

MW: Like NY1 Noticias, it is a revolutionary product, showing that our commitment is at a whole different level. We had done a lot of homework and knew the Lakers had a tremendous Hispanic following, but a less than ideal situation for Spanish speakers, many of whom used to play a radio feed with their television on mute.

One thing that struck me when we completed the deal with the Lakers was that Kobe Bryant said to me that he responded to fans in Spanish as often as he responded to fans in English.

MCN: What were the biggest challenges in launching Time Warner Cable Deportes?

There are challenges any time you launch a new network, but this was not something anyone else had done before so even just assembling the talent and the organization was big. We did not simply want a Spanish-language audio version of SportsNet; we wanted an entirely new production with a sensibility that would appeal to the Hispanic audience. Our team took on that challenge with great zeal.

They bring different perspectives not just about production, but about what fans want to know about the players and the team. They have been their own fiercest critics and are far better at measuring what works than I could be. They created Lakers Compacto, the condensed version of games with their own certain flair, and it was so good that now SportsNet has the same show.

MCN: How have these networks been greeted by the Spanish-speaking communities in their markets?

MW: There has really been strong grassroots support for the network. I’m hearing from consumers — I get a lot of emails in Spanish now — but what is really satisfying is that our Hispanic employee base has said they have never been prouder of the company; that this effort spoke to our level of commitment to their community. Our team on Deportes has also said they feel this is an incredibly special thing in the Hispanic entertainment community.

MCN: What other programming plans do you have for the Hispanic community?

MW: We have been building up our on-demand platform in Spanish and we have a Time Warner Cable TV application with over 40 channels in Spanish.

MCN: Beyond programming, how has Time Warner Cable reached out to this market?

MW: We also offer attractive packages for Hispanic consumers, including bundled offerings with highspeed Internet and an international calling plan that allows them to call places like Mexico or the Dominican Republic for just a penny a minute.

We also have an active marketing team that has done some terrific work with campaigns that have received awards in the industry and that is very engaged on the social-media side — we have a Spanish-language Facebook page. And we have been looking for some time at creating Spanish-language websites and will make that happen, hopefully, in the near future.