Javier Garcia Engineers Connections Between Culture, Entertainment, and Technology
Comcast has been rolling out its next-generation cable box, the X1 Platform, which hardly resembles the cable box of old, featuring cloud-based DVR, second-screen features, a customizable home screen, and more. It's a networked platform, meaning it's flexible, fast, and updateable.
And this September, Comcast updated X1 with software designed specifically for bicultural Latinos. Dubbed "X1 en Español," it introduced a Spanish-language version the X1 interface, featuring voice control in Spanish -- and the X1 can now understand a broad range of Latino accents.
"Sometimes I have problems with Siri," said Javier Garcia as he voice searched for "Celia Cruz." Garcia led Latin Post through a demonstration of the new Latino features of X1, a project he's been spearheading since joining Comcast as VP and General Manager of Multicultural Services last year.
"I have a strong accent," said the Colombian-born Garcia. "I'm very proud that it knows my accent... I have her trained already," joked Garcia about his linguistically adept AI.
Roots in Entertainment and Engineering
Garcia has spent his career facilitating the connections between Latinos, technology, entertainment, and culture. But growing up in Bogota, he initially thought he'd be squarely on the entertainment side of those connections.
"I always had an interest in media. The technology part came later," said Garcia. "I'm an engineer by training, but I had a real passion for music," he added. "I actually had my own rock band, and at some point even considered becoming a professional musician."
"The only problem is I'm terrible. It sounded really bad," he laughed. "I had to come up with some alternative."
So Garcia gave up the rock and roll and went to college, where he got a civil engineering degree at Universidad de Los Andes. "That's when I really started with technology." Coincidentally, it was also his first experience bringing innovation to the cable industry.
"My first job when I moved to the U.S. was working for a technology company doing something that, at the time, seemed really crazy," said Garcia. "Having cable companies offering Internet services."
Garcia's task was to work with Latin American cable companies that weren't sure about entering the Internet service provider game. "At the time, the cable business was really about programming and it took us some time to convince cable companies in Latin America to get into that," he said.
"One of the lessons I learned is you can't underestimate culture," said Garcia. "When we say multicultural, it's really about understanding the culture underneath what we do."
Comprehending the Importance of Culture
From that experience, Garcia felt a desire to expand his education beyond engineering. "I decided to get my MBA at Wharton," the University of Pennsylvania's business school, "with an emphasis on marketing and technology, because at the time I realized this is what I like," he said.
But he also broadened his understanding of the cultural side of things, earning a Masters in International Affairs at the same time.
After a few years working mostly on the technical side, Yahoo called. "They asked me to lead their editorial operations for Latin America," said Garcia. The position at Yahoo called back into play his early passion for media and entertainment, as well as his broadened understanding of how culture and technology interact.
"One funny thing is, one of the things we did was we created professional music platform," he said. "It took me 10 years and two masters degree and a lot of experience -- to finally get back into music."
Garcia spent eight years at Yahoo, heading several different departments, working in sales, product development, media, you name it. "Eventually I became the general manager of Yahoo en Español," he said.
"And when I left, I was actually the general manager of Yahoo.es Hispanic. This sounds like a nuance, but it has a profound connotation," he emphasized. "Yahoo used to see the opportunity in terms of language, so 'Yahoo en Español,' right?"
"But we grew the business by thinking about the 80 percent of Hispanics that are actually bicultural," said Garcia.
Building Entertainment Around Bicultural Latinos
Comcast snatched Garcia away from Yahoo soon after that. "I had many offers before," said Garcia. But he accepted Comcast's offer because "they were offering me a job to create products and services for multicultural consumers, versus just taking whatever the company builds and trying to market it to Hispanics."
In his new position, Garcia got a chance to build new Latino features for Comcast's X1 Platform.
Designing X1 en Español, Garcia and his team are attempting to thread a needle that advertisers, media, and technology companies often find tricky: Making a product that's just right for bicultural U.S. Latino audiences, who essentially live in two cultural worlds.
For Garcia, it's both a challenge and an opportunity, "but it's definitely more an opportunity," he said. And with around 40 percent of millennial Latinos being within Comcast's service area, according to Garcia, it's quite a big opportunity.
The question is how to make a product that hits the sweet spot between the American mainstream that Latinos tune into and the Hispanic culture they also relate to.
"What that does is make you focus and go beyond language," said Garcia. "There's not necessarily one side of the brain that's Spanish and one that's English."
The X1 update was designed on that principle. "So the content is comingled," said Garcia, demonstrating how NBC's "The Blacklist" appears right next to novellas in the X1's primetime video on demand menu.
"Language plays a role on relevancy," he acknowledged. "You don't want to watch a novella in English, but probably you don't want to watch Blacklist in Spanish." The challenge, said Garcia, "and something that we have been pushing really hard, is to make sure it's a cohesive experience. For bicultural Hispanics it's natural to see all this content put together under the same roof."
And speaking of together under the same roof, Garcia designed the X1 update to cater to multigenerational Latino families, providing a combination of features, both for millennials that prefer more English entertainment, and also for older, more Spanish-dominant viewers.
"Our belief," said Garcia, "is that there shouldn't be a compromise." The solution was to take a longstanding feature of television and make it accessible in a new way.
"We realized we have a lot of shows that are in English with second audio programming," explained Garcia. Many TV shows have offered optional Spanish-language audio tracks for years, better known as SAP. "The thing is it's very difficult, to be absolutely techy, to discover the track and activate it. So with the new platform we made it very simple. It's just a filter, a touch of a button, and now you have all the shows that have SAP," said Garcia.
"In a multigenerational family, you might have the typical Friday movie night, and it should be about the movie the entire family wants to watch. They could decide, if maybe the grandparent is there, they might want to do it in Spanish." In addition, for the grandparents, Garcia made sure the update includes the audio navigation guide (for the visually impaired) in Spanish.
It's another example of Garcia connecting culture and technology, the two worlds he has spanned throughout his career.
"What motivates me is that every morning we wake up to think up new products and new experiences... what the future looks like," said Garcia, on his career and his new project at Comcast. "We're really defining the way people communicate and enjoy entertainment."
"Seeing those things implemented is really amazing," said Garcia. "I couldn't be in any other job." Not even playing in a rock band.
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