Multicultural TV: What Distributors Want

Exclusivity, packaging flexibility and TV-everywhere rights are on the minds of multichannel distributors as they make decisions regarding programming to reach growing, young multicultural audiences, panelists at a Horowitz Associates forum said today.

Representatives from three distributors and three programmers talked about their priorities to keep their businesses growing, in the context of reaching multicultural groups.

Emma Brackett, vice president of content and programming at DirecTV, said having exclusive content was important, especially as DirecTV is a satellite-TV service that doesn’t also sell broadband or voice services. Having must-watch programming to reach growing audiences is crucial, “and if we’re the only place you’re going to get that content, that becomes critical.”

Sruta Vootukuru (left), director of programming at Dish Network, said the satellite-TV provider used to think only in terms of amassing content, including in the right languages to reach target audiences. Now, content is only part of the mix: convenience, versatility and speed are important as Dish looks toward creating “over-the-top” services or attracting viewers who gravitate to alternate delivery platforms.

Alexis Johnson, vice president of content acquisition at Time Warner Cable, gave a verbal thumbs-up to a TV-everywhere focus that Jane Rice, senior vice president of distribution at A+E Networks, said was occurring now at her networks, including FYI, the outlet recently rebranded from BIO. “TV everywhere is good for all of us,” Johnson said.

Rice said A+E has taken steps to own all the rights to its content – including creating A+E Studios – in order to serve shows up on all affiliates’ platforms. She also said programmers and distributors need to do a better job of making consumers aware of their ability to watch programming on other devices, via TV-everywhere extensions.

Brackett several times also said it was vital that distributors are able to break loose from bundling arrangements that tie up large numbers of channels with content that’s not necessarily wanted by multicultural audiences or other growing groups. DirecTV’s future depends on the young consumers that have never bought multichannel TV, she said, which is a reason why over-the-top extensions are popular and important new distribution outlets. “It’s really creating that mix that they have to have,” she said.

Johnson said another factor in choosing which multicultural programmers to partner with is a willingness to work hard to make connections, including via social media, to bring in new customers. “I like to call it hustle,” he said.

TV One EVP of sales and marketing Michelle Rice (right) said her network works hard to bring in new business for affiliates. And she pointed out that the quality of the programming that viewers watch live is also very important. Among African-Americans, 75% are interested in live viewing of television, she said. Vootukuru of Dish agreed live TV is important and must be a part of over-the-top service extensions.

Joel Kliksberg, VP and chief strategy officer at Fusion, said his news and lifestyle network backed by ABC and Univision, had produced programming on topics under-represented in mainstream media, including coverage of the youth-inspired protests in Venezuela. He said friends in his social-media circles, with whom he had not discussed Fusion, had been sharing Fusion stories about the Venezuelan situation that they found important and interesting.

Vootukuru also pointed out the growing economic importance of Asian-Americans and Arabic speaking Americans, who are generally under-served by programming options.

The Horowitz Associates 14th Annual Multicultural Media Forum: Transcending Multiculturalism continues today (March 20) in New York City. For more on marketing research discussed at the conference, see this story. This story was updated on March 21 to correct Jane Rice's title.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.