Entertainment missing a punch line

By Published on .

Hollywood may know that the number of foreign-born residents in America increased 57% between 1990 and 2000-with 51.7% from Latin America, 26.4% from Asia and 15.8% from Europe, according to the latest data from Census 2000. Yet entertainment marketers seem to be more interested in finding common ground than in reaching ethnic groups in their own languages.

True, many entertainment marketers are making bold moves to target Hispanics and Asian-Americans with in-language products, packaging and targeted media. But a significant number of major entertainment marketers, especially those focused on children, teens and young adults, are forsaking in-language marketing efforts altogether and striving to reach the broadest possible group with more mainstream-targeted messages.

aspire to mainstream

"Foreign-born young people may not yet be fluent, but they aspire to speak English and be part of mainstream culture. This is the audience Hollywood and the music industry wants," says Frank Mercardo-Valdes, president of Heritage Networks, New York, a leading producer of syndicated English-language TV programs targeting African-Americans and Hispanics.

Yet marketers also acknowledge that the nation's fastest-growing ethnic groups have unique cultural interests, which represent revenue opportunities by targeting Hispanics, Asians and blacks with culturally specific TV programming in English. These programs often have crossover appeal to mainstream audiences, say entertainment industry insiders.

While Univision, whether through its local broadcast stations, its TeleFutura unit or its Galavision cable station, and Telemundo undisputedly reach the majority of Hispanics living in the U.S., many media critics say they still don't reach a youth audience, a group of influential entertainment consumers.

"The language issue is a real dilemma because four out of five Hispanics speak some English, and in younger and urban markets, they prefer to be reached in English," says Artie Bulgrin, senior VP of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN-ABC Sports. (Since 2000, ESPN has been telecasting Major League Baseball games in Spanish on ESPN Deportes.)

Across the U.S., local TV stations are experimenting with current events and entertainment programming targeting young Hispanics in English. One example is New York's Cablevision, which this year launched a half-hour local weekly series showcasing new Latino entertainment talent, in English, called "Urban Latino." The show has been green-lighted for additional episodes.

Vivendi Universal's Universal Pictures late in 2001 announced a five-year deal to develop films targeting U.S. Hispanics under the Arenas Entertainment label; the first release, "Empire," is an English-language urban drama starring John Leguizamo, Denise Richards and Isabella Rossellini. There is no release date, but the producers expect it to hit theaters later this year.

AOL Time Warner's Warner Home Video unit, which analyzes U.S. census data and also conducts its own research on how ethnic groups perceive and consume filmed entertainment, recently stepped up in-store marketing efforts targeting Hispanics, says Jay Reinbold, VP-category management.

Warner Bros. research reveals that first- and third-generation Hispanics prefer videos originally filmed in English to be dubbed in Spanish, while second-generation Hispanics prefer English with Spanish subtitles, says Mr. Reinbold.

"We see a lot of potential in customizing video packaging for Hispanics in the future," he adds.

Although Warner also sees growth among Asian consumers, so far the company is targeting just two groups in the retail channel: Mexicans and non-Mexican Latinos.

focus on asians

Asians, however, represent a growing revenue stream for U.S. filmmakers, especially for action films and videos, says Donna Bantle, senior account manager with Asian Marketing & Media Services, Los Angeles, which creates TV commercials, primarily in Chinese, that air on U.S. Chinese media to promote English-language movies.

"Action and adventure movies get the best results, while humor and love stories relying on more idiomatic language and subtleties are harder to sell to Asians," says Ms. Bantle, adding that crossover hits like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" are anomalies.

"Hollywood and movies are one of the faster-growing advertising categories for us," confirms Michael Sherman, general manager of San Francisco's KTSF, a leading Asian-language independent TV station reaching nearly 3 million Asians in northern California.

Some filmmakers are hopeful of success in targeting Asian niche groups.

One example is Outrider Pictures, which this year distributed the Filipino film "American Adobo," which played in independent theaters and was very popular in San Francisco and New York, says Greg Macabenta, president and creative director of Minority Media Services, San Francisco. The advertising and PR shop continues to publicize the film, which is still making the circuits of Asian film festivals around the U.S. He has orchestrated an e-mail campaign to reach thousands of the estimated 2.3 million Filipinos in the U.S.

The film's characters switch between speaking Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, and English. Although the film is unlikely to have major crossover appeal to mainstream audiences, Mr. Macabenta says Outrider Pictures believes there is financial opportunity in the future in targeting various Asian groups, who tend to be upscale and have strong interest in their native cultures.

are opportunities there?

However, not everyone sees opportunities in the census data. Dana Wade, president of Omnicom Group's Spike DDB, New York, says she doesn't see anything new in the data.

When asked if the rising numbers of Hispanics and Asians will set back African-Americans' efforts to play a bigger role in entertainment, she says the new racial trends "are not going to result in a fight in Hollywood over which multicultural audience to exclude."

In videogames, the key is targeting a broad audience with all-inclusive content rather than targeting products to specific ethnic groups, says Robert Matthews, director of advertising and promotion for Nintendo of America.

"Our research shows that Nintendo's games and characters are accepted by all ethnic groups everywhere, and there is no correspondence between ethnic groups and the particular games they prefer," he says.

Music marketers also are less concerned with targeting specific ethnic groups, as the U.S. becomes a melting pot of musical tastes.

"You cannot tell a person's skin color from what music they're listening to," says Adrian Martinez, a marketing assistant with Virgin Records, overseeing music marketing to teens and young adults. "Music is associated more with lifestyle than with ethnicity," he says.


Even Mattel, which pioneered diversity marketing in the toy industry with Barbie's African-American friend Christie in 1968, is taking a more universal attitude these days.

This year, Mattel introduced Barbie's friend Kayla, its first-ever "multi-ethnic" doll, designed to be seen as Asian, Hispanic or any combination of various ethnic groups.

"Census data plus our own research show our U.S. consumers-girls ages 3 to 8-are often racially mixed, and this doll reflects that trend, plus girls of various ethnic backgrounds respond to her," says Matt Turetzky, Mattel VP-strategic planning.

"Regardless of research and numbers," the executive says, "girls' play patterns reflect what they see, which is an increasingly diverse world."

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