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Ethnic b’casters link up

Foreign nets in U.S. lure Madison Ave.

Foreign countries are bombarding the U.S. with their TV shows.

As many as 150 cable networks programming in 30 different languages are elbowing one another for space on cable systems and satellite distributors — and for ad dollars from Madison Avenue.

Responding to the logjam, the heads of a group of international cable nets have formed the Ethnic Broadcasters of America, a Los Angeles-based trade association whose goal is to help all of these program services draw more subscribers in the U.S. and harvest more money from advertisers.

Many of the ethnic networks “have a young, highly educated, high-income viewership,” said Elie Kawkabani, founder and chairman of the EBA and president of Reach Media. More often than not, these nets operate on the pay TV model, charging subscribers more monthly fees than HBO.

The pitch to cable systems, Kawkabani said, will be that they can use these foreign-language channels as a lure to get affluent expatriates to buy digital boxes, which frequently serve as an open-sesame, prodding subscribers to buy pay-per-view movies, digital video recorders and high-speed Internet access.

These channels “attract loyal and passionate viewers who are eager to maintain a cultural connection” with their country of origin, said Vimal Verma, an EBA board member and chairman-CEO of American Desi TV.

By extension, loyal viewers may be more attentive to the message advertisers are trying to get across — which makes the nets attractive to Madison Avenue. (Verma’s American Desi TV is one of the few English-language networks targeted to foreign nationals living in the U.S., in this case Indians and Pakistanis.)

Also attractive to advertisers, Kawkabani said, is that ethnic networks “have no sex and violence.” The cultural sensitivities of various ethnic groups push the nets in the direction of family-friendly programming, he added.

Kawkabani said that as a trade organization, EBA will keep a close watch on broad industry issues like must-carry, a la carte and FCC-mandated fines for obscenity.

Joining Kawkabani and Verma on the EBA board are Patrice Courtaban, chief operating officer of TV5Monde USA; Hari Srinivas, head of B4U U.S.; Nikos Tziotis, manager of Antenna Pay TV; Slava Levin, CEO of Ethnic Channels Group; Jaideep Jankiram, VP of TV Asia; S. Venkatasubramamian, country head of Zee TV USA; and Ifeoma Ajebo, VP of operations for MBI Africa.

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