Survey: Ethnic Marketing Falls Short

Cable companies' desire to reach out and market their services to people of color is growing — and so are the budgets to do so.

But there is considerable internal frustration over the pace of these efforts, and whether they're enough to counter strong initiatives by direct-broadcast satellite providers.

So concludes the Cable Telecommunications & Association for Marketing's first-ever survey of multicultural campaigns, a report set for distribution this week.

CTAM's report, undertaken with a $35,000 grant from the Walter Kaitz Foundation, comes as the industry gears up to not only sell basic and premium channels to people of various ethnic backgrounds, but to pitch such advanced services as video-on-demand, digital network tiers, high-speed Internet access and interactive TV to such consumers as well.

Surveys from other organizations also indicate that existing subscribers of color are the ones most interested in taking and using these and other advanced services.

More than half the companies represented in CTAM's survey claim to have multicultural marketing plans or objectives in place; most are locally directed. Fifty-three percent of respondents said marketing budgets for multicultural outreach rose in 2002 from 2001, and two-thirds declared that their company's outreach spending would increase this year.

No one solution

The VBS Group Inc. conducted the survey, reaching 61 senior officials at eight of the top 10 MSOs, 20 programming services and 33 individual cable systems or regional and divisional offices. CTAM established a multicultural marketing resource center on its Web site ( last fall.

Many participants said multicultural marketing poses a tough challenge because of population and language-diversity issues. There is no blanket marketing solution, respondents said.

"These are the largest, fastest-growing segments in our country — to ignore them is ridiculous," said one cable-network participant. "But a global approach to marketing to these segments is never the way to go. You have to understand differences culturally and financially in order to [execute] the multicultural marketing process as a service."

Survey participants also agreed that cable must ratchet up its multicultural efforts quickly, because DBS ventures — including DirecTV Inc.'s Para Todos assortment of Spanish-language channels — come off as having more marketplace appeal.

Which issue is blocking cable from making deeper headway with these consumers? That depends on who's answering the question.

In CTAM's study, programmers said budgets weren't sufficient to get things done or expressed frustration at the slow place of operator action.

For their part, MSO execs were concerned about getting the most from cable networks and other sources to mobilize solid campaigns, as well as covering all of the bases within their own operations — especially in areas with a number of large ethnic populations.

For example, while 94 percent of the cable systems interviewed have multilingual customer-service representatives on duty, but only 20 percent of all survey respondents offer multi-language options on their company's Web site.

Other findings: 59 percent of operators and 40 percent of cable-network respondents said they have dedicated ethnic subscriber databases and tracking capabilities; nearly three-quarters of the sample base use specialized advertising agencies for campaigns; and respondents said that local radio, print and community projects are the most effective communication tools.