The New Old World of Euro TV

Most Americans can trace their roots to Europe. Now a wave of European channels is trying to reach out to them.

“Some of the major European broadcasters have been in the market for a number of years,” says Anna Porteus, director of business, marketing and communications at GlobeCast WorldTV, which currently offers 34 à la carte European radio and TV networks in the U.S. market via a special satellite dish. “But now we’re seeing the arrival of a number of newer channels from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.”

Currently, there are only 4.5 million European-born immigrants in the U.S. (but millions more who still speak the language of their ancestry). Because of advanced technology, overseas networks can distribute their signal into the U.S. for as little as $30,000 a month, making it possible for some services to get by with a few thousand subscribers.

“Services like TV5 [from France] and RAI International [from Italy] have done very well,” says Scott Wheeler, senior VP of network development at International Networks, which currently handles 16 ethnic networks, including six from Europe.

It’s not always easy to find an Old World audience. Consider, for example, German TV, which features programming from ZDF, ARD and Deutsche Welt in Germany.

“When we started, we thought we would be able to use census data” to develop a marketing plan, recalls Mark Henderson, executive VP of Castalia, a company that specializes in negotiating carriage deals for ethnic networks. “If you used census data, [you would] pay a lot of attention to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where there are a lot of Germans. But many are Amish. They don’t even use electricity, let alone buy cable or satellite services.”

To find potential subscribers, Castalia did laborious research—and sponsored events in German pubs. It found clusters of Germans in South Florida, North Carolina and El Paso, Texas, and boosted its subscriber count to more than 20,000.

Most cable operators offer only a handful of international channels. Given the size and diversity of the population, much of the action has been on satellite, particularly WorldTV and Dish Network, which have the advantage of amortizing costs over the whole country.

But some cable operators court the ethnic crowd. Comcast Cable carries about a dozen Euro networks on various systems and wants more, particularly Russian channels, according to David Jensen, VP of international programming.

Logically, cable usually focuses on channels that fit their subscribers’ demographics. But you can get French TV5 in affluent parts of Northern California, even though there aren’t many French immigrants living there. Explains Natalie Rouse, a Comcast ethnic marketing manager, “We happen to have a lot of Francophiles who love French culture.”