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Scrambling for low-hanging fruits

Greg MacabentaGreg Macabenta

DALY CITY

Time flies so fast. I cant believe it was in 1991  21 years ago  that I got a call from Freddie Garcia about ABS-CBNs plan to enter the U.S. market in earnest. Since it launched The Filipino Channel in 1994, ABS-CBN International  as the Kapamilya Channel – has established a firm foothold in America, as well as in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, bringing to homesick overseas Pinoys Manila-produced entertainment, as well as news on the Filipino communities in the countries covered.

Then came GMA Network, launching GMA Pinoy TV in 2005. Like TFC, GMA  as the Kapuso Network – has been exporting news and entertainment to overseas Filipinos.  What it doesnt offer however  except occasionally – is news about Pinoys in the countries where they live.

Soon, we understand, TV 5, the Kapatid Channel, will also break into the U.S. market, having already launched in the Middle East, Guam and parts of Europe. According to reports, Kapatid TV5 and Aksyon TV International will be the spearhead of the networks U.S. thrust.

In sum, Pinoys in America (not to mention Pinoys in other parts of the globe) will continue to be pampered with TV programming designed to reassure them that they are Kapamilya, Kapuso and Kapatid.

This is great for those who continue to pine for the Old Country (having lived in America since heaven-knows-when) and those who are still adjusting to life in the U.S. (having just gotten off the plane, in a manner of speaking). GMA and TFC are giving them their fill of Manila-sourced news and entertainment. Doubtless, TV 5 will do the same.

From a marketing perspective, these viewers are the logical targets for any Philippine business breaking into the U.S. They are “low-hanging fruits.” Ready for the picking.

It should be noted, however, that they do not represent the majority of ethnic Pinoys in America. In fact, they are a shrinking segment.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, out of the 3.4 million people of Filipino descent in the U.S., only 48% are immigrants. 51.92% or over 1.7 million were born in America. This is a much higher percentage than the 32.3% reflected in the 2000 census.

The harsh reality is that these U.S.-born Pinoys are more American than Filipino. They may not be among the “low-hanging fruits” that constitute the current prime market targets for Pinoy TV fare.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, 22.1% of U.S. Pinoys were under 18 years old and 64.3% arrived in the U.S. before 1989. If we were to apply the same percentages to the 2010 data, that would mean that of the 1.6 million Pinoy immigrants, over a million have been in the U.S. for over two decades and over 200,000 are in their teens.

Whats the significance of these numbers? Its the likelihood that they also are not among the “low-hanging fruits” targeted by the Philippine TV networks. Meanwhile, the scramble for the low-hanging fruits will become more interesting, with three  and not just two  channels fighting for a share.

And yet, there is a huge chunk of Pinoy population waiting to be tapped. But not with pure Manila-produced news and entertainment programming.

At present, only ABS-CBN is producing local (i.e.,made in U.S.A.) program content, chief of them, Balitang America. This news program  for and about Filipinos in America –  plays an important role in the FilAm community. Typical of this role is its coverage of the planned May 11 nationwide demonstrations at the Chinese embassy and consular offices being planned by FilAm community organizations, led by US Pinoys for Good Governance.

But, with due respect to the efforts of ABS-CBN, Balitang America and the two or three other shows produced in the U.S. hardly meet the needs and expectations of the growing FilAm population, the ones who can no longer be considered “low-hanging fruits.”

Most of them are young and at the stage in their lives where they have begun to ask what they are. Americans? Filipinos? Filipino-Americans?

In an interview I conducted back in the late 80s at UC Berkeley, among FilAm students who were studying Tagalog, the feeling of being in limbo was apparent. According to them, they did not feel that they were “American enough.” Yet neither did they feel “Filipino enough.”

Not much has changed since then. Except for greater exposure to things Pinoy, through the social networks, young FilAms are still trying to pin down their roots  and theyre not getting much help from available Filipino media. Not print. Not TV. Not even the social networks.

The more socially and politically conscious among the youth have demanded and gotten approval of Filipino ethnic studies in their respective universities. Groups like KAYA, composed of young FilAms, are politically active. KAYA was involved in the Obama presidential campaign. An organization called Filipina Womens Network has been rallying Pinays across the U.S. and honoring achievers among them.

But something is missing. Something that GMA, ABS-CBN and, hopefully, TV 5 are in the best position to provide: news and entertainment, dramas, musicals, documentaries, historical, educational and cultural fare that will tell the story of Filipinos in America, going back to the pioneering years all the way up to the present.

Right now, this huge viewer segment is not simply underserved  it is practically unserved. There is a disconnect with Filipino media.

The disconnect is also apparent in consumer marketing.

For the past two decades, as a management consultant, I have seen the impressive growth of the Seafood City Group of Companies, from two supermarkets in San Diego, California to becoming the largest Filipino-owned retail enterprise in the U.S., with supermarkets and restaurants in Northern and Southern California, Nevada and Washington State.

The group hopes to grow even more. It still plans to penetrate the mid-West and the East Coast, as well as the American Southwest and Hawaii. The growth has mainly been on the strength of the Pinoy consumer market.

But as Seafood City has grown, management has also begun to note a dwindling of the market, as a percentage of population. Conversely, an increasing segment of the FilAm population is not being adequately tapped. And, unless the right marketing moves are made, that segment could be more and more estranged.

This “estrangement” may be seen in my own family. Our four children have been in the U.S. for some 25 years. They have set up their own households and three have children, all born in the U.S. While they love Pinoy food (my wife is a great cook), whenever they host their own parties, they bring out cheeses and chips, cold cuts and salad, beer and wine  hardly any of the stuff available at the many Filipino and Asian grocery stores and supermarkets in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a matter of habit, they go to the mainstream retail stores.

Multiply them by the number of U.S.-born and U.S.-raised Pinoys and you can appreciate the huge consumer segment waiting to be tapped  and not being adequately tapped as of now  while the scramble for the “low-hanging fruits” becomes more intense.

At least, Seafood City is doing something about it. I hope GMA, ABS-CBN and TV 5 will, too.

@BODYLEFT = (gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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