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Comcast has long wanted to do the right thing in terms of serving Hispanic consumers, both because of the biggest U.S. cable company's commitment to its communities and because it makes good business sense.
But being nice does not win awards. And it wasn't until the last two years that Comcast started down the road that would earn the company the brand new Leadership in Hispanic Television award, to be presented at the 10th annual Broadcasting & Cable/Multichannel News Hispanic Television Summit.
"When I got here 20 months ago, I found a significant appreciation for the importance of ethnic markets, particularly the Hispanic one, to the growth of this company," Marcien Jenckes, Comcast's senior vice president and general manager of video services, said. "But even though there were good intentions and good efforts, there was no real organized approach. There was no centralized focus to make this ladder up into something transformative for us as a company."
All of that has changed, and in a remarkably short time span. Jenckes said that when he sat down with Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, his goal for creating a unit that would focus on multicultural services was not only embraced, but met with an enthusiastic commitment.
"He said, 'That's terrific, let's go out and hire the people necessary.' You could very much describe this as a mission. We marshaled the resources needed to start serving this market."
Jenckes knew he wanted employees who understood the community (Spanish was the language of his childhood home: his mother is from Spain and he lived there for 10 years as a child), not just in terms of their personal background but also in terms of the industry. "We brought in experts to fulfill our objectives," he said. (Comcast Corp. is also being honored as the "Company of the Year" by LATINA Style magazine for its career advancement opportunities for Latinas.)
The first employee of this new group was its leader, vice president and general manager of multicultural video services Ruben Mendiola.
"He really knows cable TV and he knows the Hispanic market," Jenckes said. Mendiola spent nine years at satellite-TV provider Dish Network, where he was general manager of Latino programming and Spanish business development. Before that, he was vice president of programming and operations at Fox Sports Latin America.
"We understand what is important to Hispanics," the Mexican-born Mendiola said. "There are some things you can't really fake. I'm an immigrant. I watch TV in Spanish all day."
Mendiola took the job in part because he "found the team structure and holistic approach appealing." He said that while he knew the work would be challenging, he was drawn to the idea that "there was an opportunity to come in here and really shape the way Hispanics receive their services since Comcast is difficult to match in the tools it has to offer consumers."
Mendiola oversees a growing team of more than a dozen staffers and is responsible for directing, designing and implementing overall video-services strategy across all platforms, collaborating with Comcast's many divisions and business partners to develop competitive product pricing, positioning and marketing strategies. He has sought out dedicated workers both from within and outside the company.
"It is a little bit like Ocean's Eleven," Mendiola said of assembling his team. (He laughs a bit sheepishly when it is pointed out that this would make him George Clooney.)
Th e new division includes Adrian Adriano, vice president of multicultural marketing, who he brought in from the wireless industry (at T-Mobile and AT&T) which "serves the Hispanic community well because Hispanics overindex in their wireless use" and Jose Velez- Silva, senior director of multicultural marketing, who was multicultural group director at GlobalWorks and before that oversaw Procter & Gamble brands in his native Puerto Rico and the Caribbean for Leo Burnett.
"It is a mental shift for the company," Jenckes said. "It's a subtle difference, but most companies create general market products then tailor it to different segments. They'll create a tripleplay offer and then say, â€˜How can we sell it to Hispanics?' But with this team, we can look at what the Hispanic community needs and then build the product with those needs in mind.
"America is a melting pot and our job is to create products at the highest possible level for Hispanics, the same as for everyone else," Mendiola added.
Comcast is just now hitting the market with some of its new products and marketing efforts that reflect the work of this new team. For instance, the company recently announced the nationwide rollout of "Xfinity Triple Play MultiLatino," which combines MultiLatino TV video programming and services and highspeed Internet service with a unique phone service that includes 300 international minutes per month to Mexico or Latin America, as well as access to discount mobile minutes (such as 10 cents per minute to Mexico).
"I know that the long-distance calls are very important," Mendiola said, adding that it couldn't just be a sales gimmick of free minutes upfront that would end up costing customers more in the long run. The company needed to differentiate Triple Play MultiLatino not just from other phone services, but from calling cards that pile on extra charges and even make users listen to ads before placing a call.
"The everyday economics are very important," he said. "That's why we had to be competitive with our rates after those 300 free minutes."
Comcast also established a partnership with Internet video-calling service Skype last year. While that deal was struck for reasons aside from Comcast's multicultural- marketing effort, Mendiola and Jenckes both said Skype is important for Latino consumers - many of whom not only have roots in another country, but often have family members still there who would be thrilled to see and not just hear their children or grandchildren.
Of course, some of the efforts have been made in ways that are more traditional for a cable company. Comcast, knowing that their audience loves Spanish-language music videos, has also built up what Mendiola said is the largest Latino music video library in America.
DOUBLING DOWN ON VOD
"We've also doubled our on-demand movie selections," Mendiola said, adding that the growth will continue at such a large scale. "People are asking us to get movies dubbed in Spanish so they can fully enjoy them."
And Comcast recently celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month and Mexico's Mes de la Patria with a special collection of programming including movies, television series, music and children's programming that highlight a variety of Latin cultures.
While most of the multicultural team's job is focused on Hispanic consumers, they are reaching out to a diverse array of groups. The company's "Internet Essentials" low-cost broadband initiative, for instance, is aimed at helping connect all lower-income families, not just Hispanics.
Households that have at least one child receiving free or reduced price school lunches through the National School Lunch Program may be eligible for Internet Essentials, and Comcast translates its marketing information on the project into 16 different languages. The team is also trying to be more effective in reaching eligible families by targeting communityspecific local newspapers for advertising and by organizing grassroots events aimed at different groups.
Additionally, Comcast's purchase of NBCUniversal came with the caveat that the company create minority-owned networks, which includes not only El Rey, which is founded in part by movie director Robert Rodriguez, but also African-American themed channels like Magic Johnson's Aspire TV and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' Revolt.
A CHANGING NATION
But the main focus of the group is the growing Hispanic segment. Mendiola noted that the nation is changing rapidly in terms of demographics, so Comcast needs to adapt to stay ahead of the curve. Currently, one in four U.S. children are Hispanic, he said, which means that in 2020 one in four Americans in the coveted 18- to-34 demographic will be Hispanic.
"The country is going to look very, very different," Mendiola said. "The commitment I found here was remarkable and offered a chance to affect the lives of so many people."
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