ADVERTISERS and television broadcasters, once accused of ignoring ethnic communities, are bringing the information age to America's growing multicultural population.
Television and cable stations now offer programming in a wide variety of languages to even the smallest communities. The estimated 23,000 Romanians in Chicago, for example, can watch an hour and a half of programming on Channel 23, WFBT-TV. The International Channel, a multilingual broadcast company based in Los Angeles, now sells to cable stations an Oprah Winfrey-type talk show in Mandarin Chinese, called Pei Pei's Time.
Programmers gather material cheaply abroad and re-broadcast it here or commission programs in the United States.
The improving quality and variety of foreign-language programming is drawing sponsors, as advertisers and broadcasters discover its power to tap communities previously ignored.
``Niche markets are becoming recognized by advertisers,'' says Rosemary Danon, executive vice president of the International Channel. ``We've proven through research that advertising in a native language tends to be more memorable.''
In a foreign-language community, 60 to 70 percent of the population tunes in to programming offered in their own language, says Peter Zomaya, vice president and general sales manager of Chicago's Weigel Broadcasting. For example, 88 percent of the Korean community watches some portion of eight hours a week of Korean broadcasting, according to KSCI, the International Channel's local syndicate in Los Angeles.
Some ethnic groups, particularly Hispanic-Americans, have been courted for years by advertisers and producers. Univision in New York is already the fifth-largest network in the US.
Yet even Spanish-language broadcasting and advertising has room for improvement, says Stephen Hammond, Univision's director of communications. Less than 1 percent of US advertising expenditures is directed toward the 17 million Spanish speakers, who spend more than $200 billion a year on goods and service.
The Asian community is quickly becoming an attractive consumer group, particularly on the West Coast. Jay Song, a media planner with AMKO Advertising in New York, says, ``Spending in the Asian markets has pretty much doubled every year for the past few years. It's growing in leaps and bounds.''