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WATCH YOUR Language

Mar 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The explosion of international programming on cable and satellite can be attributed in part to the 2000 U.S. Census, which helped open the floodgates for delivery of native-language programming to the U.S. mainland simply by asking people which languages they spoke at home.
“That specific information was not available before, so cable operators started looking at the numbers of people in their communities that spoke Korean or Japanese, for example. They needed to serve those people, because satellite operators were already doing it,” said Jim Honiotes, VP of marketing at International Channel Networks (ICN), a Denver-based company controlled by Liberty Media.
Nearly a dozen overseas networks have become available to U.S. audiences since 2000. French speakers in Lewiston, Maine, have been able to get France’s TV5 on the local Adelphia system’s basic tier since 1999. Cox cable customers in Las Vegas can choose a package of Asian channels, and Comcast in Chicago launched TV Polonia, a Polish network, last November.
“Listen to your customers and give them what they want. That was the basis of our decision,” said Michael Edgecomb, Adelphia’s government relations manager. “By making the French programming available, we think it certainly keeps people from migrating to satellite.”
ICN is the exclusive distributor of 16 foreign-language channels to cable operators. The company also offers its own prepackaged product, the International Channel, which features a daytime lineup of native-language news and information programs from the Middle East, Asia and Europe. At night, the channel delivers a 90-minute variety block in English, aimed mainly at Asian Americans.
“The idea is to serve the underserved, people for whom English is a second language but who still want to connect with their homeland,” Mr. Honiotes said.
ICN and cable operators split the revenue for channels offered as a premium option. Cable systems that carry the channels on a basic tier pay ICN a per-subscriber fee. Though cable is moving fast to make international services available, it has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with satellite provider DISH Network.
“We have been offering international channels since 1996, and we are up to about 59 channels right now,” said DISH spokesman Steve Caulk. Subscribers can pick up programming from Iran, Israel, the Netherlands, Italy and other countries for as little as $10 a month on an a la carte basis. Packages that include several native-language networks range from $25 for two channels in Farsi to $50 for a lineup of five networks from South Asia.
DirecTV offers a more limited selection. Its $36.99 Jadeworld package includes five Chinese channels, with programming in Mandarin and Cantonese.