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EchoStar Spells Success in Other Languages

12/12/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Since its 1996 launch, EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network has made great strides with ethnic fare, routinely adding services and language-specific channels to meet the programming needs of the U.S.’s immigrant population.

It’s a tactic that has helped distinguish Dish in the eyes of consumers and has forced cable to play catch up with its ethnic programming lineups.

When the company activated its first satellite, Dish offered three European and Middle Eastern channels: networks from Greece and Italy, as well as an Arabic language channel.

Dish has expanded its offerings over the years. There are now three Greek channels, and networks in Armenian, French, Japanese, Russian, German, Chinese, Korean, South Asian, Dutch, Polish, Urdu, Farsi, Israeli, Portuguese and Tagalog.

Michael Schwimmer, EchoStar executive vice president of marketing and programming, said federal census data and “good common sense” have dictated what population groups the company targets. Then the company researched what programming was available. Once the wish list was built, “we just knocked them down one by one.”

The latest addition came this year, with a suite of more than 20 Chinese language services, dubbed the “Great Wall” package.

For the continued upgrading and fine-tuning of its services, Dish is the recipient of Multichannel News’s 2004 Innovator Award for ethnic programming and distribution.

Surprisingly, the construction of Dish’s Great Wall came relatively easily.

“We got access to the programming just this year,” Schwimmer said, noting there were unique issues to creating programming contracts with a foreign Communist government.

“You just don’t walk in and say 'I want to buy programming.’ The government had to get involved,” he said.

But in the end, the negotiations for the Great Wall suite were among the quickest the company has ever concluded. Officials in China decided early this year that they wanted distribution deals to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the nation’s Communist government. That enabled Dish to launch the programming at the beginning of October.

Overall, Dish customers hold a variety of options when it comes to ethnic product, including international pay per view for $3.99 per title, and several language suites with different price points that vary dependent on the number of household set-tops and whether the buyer orders English-language channels in addition to the foreign-language programming.

But in Schwimmer’s view, there is no better marketing strategy for ethnic programming than community word of mouth. Indeed, equipment retailers at the recent California launch event for the Great Wall package said they had already gotten calls from potential consumers who had already heard in their communities of the coming of programming from their homelands.

Retailers also play a big role in the selling of the services to non-English customers, while good customer service also helps: EchoStar has customer service representatives who speak every language the DBS provider programs. That’s a manpower issue that’s “not hard if you’re focused on it,” Schwimmer said.

September