Networks give new voice to Hispanic households

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Upstart networks keen on reaching the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic market are speaking a new language: English.

Among Hispanics, one of the fastest-growing groups are "acculturated" Latinos, or those equally or more comfortable speaking English as Spanish. Some programmers say Spanish-only cable TV is bypassing this important audience, which warrants its own outlets.

It may be a difficult sell, however, as U.S. advertisers continue to spend proportionately less on Hispanic media than on general-market advertising, and fragmentation is already causing plenty of headaches for media planners and buyers.

But proponents of English-language cable programming developed specifically for Hispanic audiences say demographic data prove their case.

"In this new generation, Hispanics overwhelmingly prefer English. ... They are Americans, and they're watching everything else that Americans are watching," says Fernando Espuelas, chairman of Voy Network, a new Hispanic-focused, English-language channel scheduled to debut in July.

Voy Network will target Hispanics aged 18-49, offering lifestyle entertainment with content focusing on travel, history and pop culture. Talk shows, documentaries, political reports and news about Latino communities also will be included.


U.S. Hispanics now represent almost 13% of the total U.S. market and are the fastest growing segment within the U.S. Voy estimates Hispanic buying power was $653 billion in 2003 and is expected to exceed $1 trillion by 2008, or 10% of all U.S. buying power.

Where some marketers and agencies would believe Spanish to be the dominant language choice for reaching Hispanics, English is playing an increasingly important role.

The latest research from Simmons National Consumer Study shows 76% of Hispanic adults born in the U.S. watch English-language TV, while only 29% of that group watch Spanish-language TV. Conversely, 81% of foreign-born Hispanics watch Spanish-language TV. Some 12.4 million Hispanic adults are Spanish dominant, with 84% of those foreign born.

Within 20 years, 80% of U.S. Hispanics will be U.S.-born, Mr. Espuelas notes, adding, "In the new generation, Hispanics will have an overwhelming preference for English." To date, Voy Network has no advertisers or distribution deals, says Mr. Espuelas, a former AT&T Corp. marketing executive and founder of StarMedia Network, a Latin American Web site.

The emerging English-dominant Latino is a consumer audience not well-addressed so far by the general market, says Lupe Sierra, Hispanic brand manager with Simmons Market Research. "It's very important, but the reality is there's an English component" to that audience that has been overlooked.

Programmers reaching out to Hispanics in the U.S. say it's not enough to target them with Spanish-language content. The programming must also hit the right mark in cultural interest and sensitivity to hold Hispanics' interest, says Jeff Valdez, chairman and co-founder of Si TV, an English-language Hispanic network that debuted in February. Advertisers include the U.S. Army and Labatt USA's Tecate beer.

Mr. Espuelas hopes Hispanic-targeted, English-language programming might also have crossover appeal to general viewers. Non-Hispanics already identify with Latino culture and music, and he anticipates those consumers will be attracted to English-language Latino TV as well. This is similar to how consumers take in the culture, music and apparel of African-Americans, Mr. Espuelas says.

In its first few months, Si TV's distribution reached 8 million cable and satellite households. Its audience among viewers between 18 and 34 years old includes Hispanics, Anglos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans, according to Si TV.


Mr. Valdez says English-language programming targeting Hispanics has proved to have broad appeal. He cites "The Brothers Garcia," an English-language show he created in 2000 about the Latino experience that aired on Viacom's Nickelodeon and drew wide audience appeal among the 12-and-under set. Now, those kids are growing into acculturated adults, he says.

That's not to say Spanish-language media's popularity is shrinking. In March, Univision was the No. 1-ranked network in Phoenix among adults 18-49, besting all other broadcast and cable outlets; Univision is also at or near the top of all ratings in Los Angeles, Houston and Miami, a trend that has been developing since the mid-1990s.

Meanwhile, mainstream programming translated into Spanish is spreading rapidly on cable. A Spanish version of the History Channel debuts next month, and ESPN Deportes kicked off in January. In many markets there are also Spanish-language versions of Discovery Channel, Fox Sports Net, MTV, VH1 and the Weather Channel.

"In many markets, the Anglo is the niche ... there's a tremendous opportunity there for the crossover audience," Mr. Valdez says. "We're just following the trend of the new general market."

The trend of acculturation is drawing marketers' attention, if only slowly. The idea of placing ads targeting Hispanics on English-language, Hispanic-focused networks is still a new phenomenon-one that's taking time for marketers to adjust to, says Aida Levitan, vice chair-chief communications officer with Publicis Groupe-backed Hispanic agency Bromley Communications, Miami.

not reaching suggested levels

The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies recommends U.S. marketers seeking Hispanic consumers earmark 9% of overall measured media budgets for print and TV to be spent on Hispanic media, with 15%-17% of that earmarked money spent on individual spot markets, says Ms. Levitan, a past president of the organization. To date, few are achieving those levels. "If [marketers] are willing to do that, then they can experiment with English-language media aimed at Hispanics," Ms. Levitan says. But with the average Hispanic spending now hovering near 5%, Ms. Levitan says marketers should concentrate on Spanish-language media for the best return on investment.

Although it's starting small and may struggle to gain a foothold, bilingual and English-language programming will eventually have its place amid the fast-growing Hispanic audience, says Yolanda Foster, VP-programming and promotions with Mun2, the bilingual cable sibling of NBC's Spanish-language Telemundo.

Like rival Univision, Telemundo traditionally targets new emigres and the assimilated, or those who are established U.S. residents but aren't fluent in English.

Since its 2001 debut, Mun2 has delivered a mix of programming targeted to acculturated, English-speaking Hispanics, who tend to be second- to fourth-generation Americans, says Ms. Foster. Advertisers reaching Mun2's 5.9 million households include Toyota Motor Sales USA's youth-targeted Scion, Corona beer, Polaroid and the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" anti-smoking campaign.

Acculturated content delivers a mind-set among speakers of English, Spanish-or both, she says. "You're buying more than a group. You're buying an environment," Ms. Foster says. "Some aren't even Latino but just identify with the experience. There are plenty of people out there for all of us. We just have to grow this pie."

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