News

The Undiscovered Country

Contrary to stereotypes often perpetuated by the media, the Hispanic population in the us is not a group of illegals, maids and gardeners. Take a look at recent figures, and its importance is clear. It's time to toss assumptions aside and understand the significance of this demo to the non-fiction world: 'If the us Hispanic market were a country,' says Harry Neuhaus, managing partner at Coral Gables, Florida-based entertainment and consulting company Animus Group, 'it would be the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.'
January 1, 2006

Contrary to stereotypes often perpetuated by the media, the Hispanic population in the US is not a group of illegals, maids and gardeners. Take a look at recent figures (see below), and its importance is clear. It’s time to toss assumptions aside and understand the significance of this demo to the non-fiction world: ‘If the US Hispanic market were a country,’ says Harry Neuhaus, managing partner at Coral Gables, Florida-based entertainment and consulting company Animus Group, ‘it would be the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.’

While it seems improbable anyone would pass up an opportunity to reach such an affluent constituency, it’s happening. Neuhaus says there is a dearth of programs available to the market, and now is the time to make inroads. The Spring 2005 Ownership & Trend Report from Knowledge Networks shows almost 57% of Hispanics said watching TV was the household’s favorite way to relax. A recent GfK NOP OmniTel Survey of 500 Hispanic Americans over 18 years of age adds that they are two to three times more likely than the general population to turn to television as their primary source for entertainment-related information.

That an opportunity exists is a given, but which language to use is not. According to Nielsen Media Research information, in 2004-2005 roughly 50% of Hispanic-American TV households were Spanish-dominant (meaning homes where only Spanish or mostly Spanish is spoken). How that figure will evolve is uncertain. While many recent immigrants adopt American culture and language as they put down roots, immigration remains high enough that the language ratio could stay the same. On top of that, the evolution of media itself might be affecting that language mixture.

‘Ten years ago, a recent immigrant had only a handful of media choices,’ observes Jorge Percovich, EVP and MD of media agencies MPG Diversity and MPG International. ‘That’s changed today, not only with TV, but radio, print, and online. The media infrastructure has just exploded,’ he says. ‘Media consumption is also tied to the quality of the content; that’s why a few years ago it was easy to think that as people were going to remain in the country for a longer period of time they were going to assimilate to US culture, learn the language and consume English-language media.’ That’s no longer a given.

Eager to foster its relationship with Hispanic viewers, ABC recently became the first US network to provide all of its primetime in Spanish, partially via SAP (Second Audio Program), a service that allows viewers to receive an alternative audio signal. Of the 20 primetime English-language network programs among Hispanic viewers polled one week last spring by the Nielsen Hispanic Homevideo Index, three were reality shows (they were American Idol and The Contender). The Gfk NOP survey states that 37% of Hispanic Americans (the same percentage as the general US population) regularly or occasionally watch reality shows, which may leave room for other non-fiction genres to make a mark.

What many networks fail to do is fine-tune content to the Hispanic viewer. Last summer, Discovery strengthened its Spanish-language offerings with the launch of two more nets to add to Discovery en Español, which premiered seven years ago. Discovery decided against sap and instead opted for original programming, produced in either Latin America or the US with Spanish talent, to attract the Hispanic audience.

They also offer what Luis Silberwasser, senior VP and GM of Discovery Networks US Hispanic Group, calls ‘transcreated’ programming: shows that are tailored to the US Hispanic market using customized language, graphics, music and Latin American personalities. This process, he says, makes the series more relevant to the community. For instance, when Discovery en Español aired the 9/11 special The Flight that Fought Back, rather than simply dubbing the special, testimony from the sister of a Puerto Rican passenger was used before and after the show. ‘That created a different feeling, and made it more personal for the Hispanic audience,’ says Silberwasser.

He also notes Hispanic viewers show an appetite for ‘more educational, cultural, travel and lifestyle programs,’ which is also supported by the GfK NOP survey, which says Hispanics are more likely than the general population to rely on TV for information about travel and entertainment. Data from Nielsen’s nhti study puts Discovery en Español as the sixth-ranked Spanish-language cable net, after names like Fox Sports, MTV and CNN.

But adapting content doesn’t necessarily mean going Spanish, which is good news for companies with English catalogs. Jeff Valdez is co-founder of US cable network Si TV, an English-language Latino net disproving theories that this group only consumes media in Spanish. For Valdez, it was an obvious choice to air English programming on Si TV. He’s tired of producers intent on making shows they say feel ‘really Latino.’ The reality, he says, is ‘I don’t once go through the day where I think ‘I’m feeling kinda Latino right now’ anymore than I think, ‘Gee, I’m right handed.’ Certain things just are.’

Targeting the hip 18- to 34-year-old Latino and multicultural audience, Si TV airs both acquired and original shows (about 55%) with what it calls a fresh, edgy, funny twist. In May, Roslow Research Group revealed Si TV’s top-rated original program was The Drop, which offers a serving of what’s hot in Latino and urban music and culture. The network also has a small offering of reality, including Si TV’s own Urban Jungle 2: Straight Into Compton, which ranked as one of the net’s top 10-rated shows. Jungle takes a group of suburbanites and transplants them into a house in Compton to get a taste of ghetto life.

As a cable network, Si TV is part of the evolution of the cable market within the Hispanic demo. ‘Right now, the cable penetration in the Spanish market is only about 60%,’ says Neuhaus, ‘but that isn’t bad – it took the general population of the US 15 or 16 years to get 50% to 60% penetration in cable.’

It’s clear that this demographic is growing and evolving quickly, and it’s up to media to catch up – or risk missing out.

Let the numbers do the talking:
In the US, Hispanics make up of 13.4% of the population, which equates to 41 million potential viewers, and 11 million viewing households. Their purchasing power is roughly US$490 billion (according to Standard and Poor), and is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. Between 2002 and 2004, the number of Hispanic college grads increased 22%, up to 4.4 million annually. Now who’s getting schooled?

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.