NetForAll Targets Hispanic Market with ITV

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Interactive television company NetForAll Inc. is rolling out the first set-top box and service directly targeted at a specific cultural demographic.

The system is trilingual -- Spanish, Portugese and English -- and is targeted at Hispanic populations in 70 cities across the United States where their concentration is the highest, including major cities such as Miami, Houston and New York.

"Our specific target is a Hispanic woman, 25 to 49 years old," said Isaura Flores, marketing director at NetForAll Inc., Houston. "She is also [a] mother and is a person who is not computer-literate. In our research studies we have done in the past, this is the market that shows the most interest and is willing to pay more to get the service."

Most of the features available through NetForAll are Internet applications such as e-mail and Web browsing, making the system's features closely related to those of WebTV, which runs off the Liberate ITV platform.

The system is being pushed through kiosks in shopping centers and stores and is available directly from NetForAll through an 800 number. According to President Roland Rodriguez, the company is in talks with retail outlets and shopping centers to sell the bundled box and service. The list price is $299 for the box and $21.95 a month for the service.

Rodriguez also said the company plans to roll out radio ads, an infomercial and six different direct response commercials to explain the concept. The spots and long-form will run in select markets and are being produced and aired by content partner Hispanic Television Network. The system already comes with an instructional videotape on which the infomercial will be based.

Recent studies indicated that fewer than half of an estimated 33 million Hispanics in the United States own a PC or have Internet access at home. In addition, 39 percent of Hispanics recently polled by Cheskin Research, Redwood Shores, CA, said they didn't need a computer.

As a group, Hispanics also are much more inclined than any other demographic to use the Internet if it is delivered through a more common appliance like the television -- which they prefer over any other medium, according to a study by the leading Spanish television network in the United States, Univision, Los Angeles.

Rodriguez and Flores both said the combination of Internet applications such as e-mail and Web browsing on a television set would solve these problems.

The NetForAll service has been available in certain areas of Mexico for the past few months. Though the company plans a much larger marketing assault in the United States, Flores said she thinks that the service's prior use in Mexico puts NetForAll at a distinct advantage. Many of NetForAll's applications, such as a home page and e-mail service, are concentrated on world events and happenings in Spanish-language countries.

"It creates virtual communities," Flores said. "One of the most important aspects of the product is the varied applications, and people believe that is a great way to communicate with people far away. People who do not have a computer feel it is a very easy way to communicate with relatives in another country.

"People in Mexico tell their relatives here about it, and vice versa. We are now in the process of adding features such as different types of chat rooms for different communities and countries."

The company's major hurdle may well be the challenging business model of selling both a set-top appliance and a service. Most interactive television companies -- even giants like America Online -- are outsourcing and relying on cable operators to install applicable digital set-tops for consumers, while the ITV companies take care of the service. Rodriguez said NetForAll plans to syndicate its service to cable operators, but any deals being worked on are not part of this first marketing roll-out and may be some time away.

"By working outside the traditional structure of the cable and programming industries, NetForAll may be building themselves a higher mountain to climb," said Michael Kokernak, president of ITV media buying company, Back Channel Media, Boston. "But they are smart to target a demo which could be appealing to potential partners."

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