By Karen Ruttner

A recent poll of minorities and foreign-born U.S. residents determined that 45 percent of them prefer ethnically targeted television to its Anglo counterpart.

Despite the data, the U.S. remains grossly underserved when it comes to such programming. The reasons for this are debatable, but the folks behind the ethnic IPTV platform TV2Moro begin by suggesting that, for one, existing traditional TV platforms have limited capacity for ethnic channels, and two, many ethnic communities reside in tightly-knit apartment buildings, thus making satellite installation a near impossibility (due to both physical and digital congestion).

The Burbank California-based TV2Moro is the vision of Elie Kawkabani and Haytham ElMokadem, two industry veterans with acute understanding of both subscription services and TV content distribution. Kawkabani is a co-founder and 10-year veteran of Reach Media Inc in the U.S., as well as the founder, president, and Chairman of the Board of Ethnic Broadcasters of America (EBA). His role with the latter organization, which represents 90 percent of all ethnic broadcasters in the U.S., positions him as a crucial cog in the specialized content machine. ElMokadem brings a wealth of experience in the marketing and distribution sectors.

“Unfortunately, many companies attempting to build an ethnic or niche business using the Internet have done so either prematurely, or, in my humble opinion, using the wrong business model,” Kawkabani stated flatly at the start of the interview. So what, then, is the proper business model?

“Our business model is that of traditional pay-TV,” he explained, “Content will be the main driver for our success, and that is where our competitive advantage lies. We know how to secure content, how to package it, price it, sell it and service it. And we know where the ethnic communities are and how their buying habits affect the business.”

Kawkabani also suggested that the targeted viewers might have been too unfamiliar with the underdeveloped technology. “Those early adopters [of IPTV] who have tried getting their favorite channels via the Internet, whether to their computer screens or even directly to their TV screen have not been happy with the outcome, and may still believe that the technology does not work.”

So how does one get this internationally-sourced content to specific audiences? The answer is through a “TV2,” the name given to TV2Moro’s customized set-top box that encodes and delivers content to viewers’ TV sets. Using a home’s Internet, i.e., broadband connection (be it DSL, cable or Wi-Fi), the TV2 works just like a cable box, offering remote control access, on-screen program guides, and VoD services. “Our current infrastructure and distribution model allows us to deliver, sell and service any ethnic customer anywhere in the world,” Kawkabani said, “We are taking very strategic steps that will ensure systematic and healthy growth. Starting with North America (the U.S., Canada and Mexico), we will open up markets that broadcasters don’t currently have or realize the potential of.”

ElMokadem explained,“Our initial language package that is launching is Middle Eastern….We are also contracting new locations that will be covering content initiated in the Asian and South American continents.”

How much money would it take to run a successful IPTV platform? “Whereas the initial investment to start an IPTV platform is not prohibitive, the key word here is ‘successful,’” ElMokadem said. “To run an IPTV platform that would appeal to all kinds of consumers would take a substantial commitment in resources, funds and efforts. At TV2Moro, IPTV is just the delivery method of the content — but the viewing experience, customer service, technical support and billing is the same as a traditional pay-TV platform. We have invested a substantial amount of funds and time to simplify the experience for our subscribers, whether they are computer savvy or not.”

In addition to the linear channels that TV2Moro is tapping, the platform offers a number of services familiar to pay-TV viewers. For instance, there are several features within the technology and hardware that allow for time shifting, on-demand and recorded viewing. The company has also been working on deals with a number of production houses to secure rights to recent movies and programs that would function as VoD. ElMokadem also pointed out that “a lot of the linear channels that we broadcast carry live shows, so our agreement with the content providers is such that we can provide a special U.S. centralized feed that would appeal to both West Coast and East Coast subscribers.”

Thus the TV2Moro vision is in place, it is just a matter of getting the word out. When asked about the company’s marketing plan, ElMokadem explained, “The most powerful marketing tool in the ethnic field is grass roots marketing and word of mouth. This is something [Elie and myself] have mastered over the past 10 years. Between us both, every Arabic channel that has successful distribution currently was launched, marketed and serviced. In addition to grass roots marketing, traditional media and incentive campaigns will be implemented.”