NATPE 2008

Starcom CEO Asks for More Multicultural Programming

Niche Shows Could Offer Higher Engagement Among Viewers

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LAS VEGAS ( -- The CEO of one of the marketing world's biggest buying firms, Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Renetta McCann, called on TV producers to come up with more programs that target specific demographic groups, even if the programs didn't become among the top-rated on the small screen.
Renetta McCann
Renetta McCann

Ms. McCann acknowledged that the idea faced significant challenges -- most marketers look to place ads against shows that garner high audience ratings. But Ms. McCann said SMG Multicultural research showed that spending by multicultural groups in the U.S. was poised to grow beyond spending by Caucasians and that African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latin Americans were likely to spend more time with programs that struck an emotional chord with them.

Pay attention to multicultural shows
Marketers and networks "need to value the multicultural audience more accurately," said Ms. McCann, who predicted multicultural-consumer spending could reach $1.7 trillion by 2010. She made her remarks at the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference, during a day of panels produced by Advertising Age.

Citing SMG Multicultural's research, Ms. McCann suggested that specific demographic groups might spend more time and pay more attention to such network programs as "My Wife and Kids" or "The George Lopez Show," both now canceled. Programs such as those might be judged differently in the future, she said, when producers and networks take into account the chance to monetize them on cellphones and the web as well as TV, and audience ratings are viewed with less importance than some sort of measurement of audience attentiveness and engagement that could be developed in the future.

"Watching 'American Idol' because it is the best alternative in a particular time slot is very different than choosing a program because you can connect to it in an emotional way," she said. She said some groups of African-Americans were more engaged with select programs that ran on cable channel BET, and were worth reaching by advertisers -- even if its shows had lower ratings than those that ran on some broadcast networks.

She noted that TV outlets already use "versioning" when it comes to sports, airing programs in certain markets that have geographical relevance. The practice could be expanded to food and lifestyle programs, she suggested, with producers making certain that the programs would be germane to multicultural audiences in specific regions. "I believe a TV program will get a significant spike in engagement if it can move away from mass and closer to 'me,' " she said.

Ms. McCann's ideas wouldn't be the easiest to implement. Measuring consumer interest, or engagement, is still a nascent practice, and many marketers are still enamored of audience ratings. That said, as the world becomes more digital and more consumers view content via other means of distribution, new models are bound to emerge -- and with them, new measurement concepts.
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