Looking Through the Hispanic Lens Brings a Paradigm Shift in Telecom, Media & Entertainment Industries

By Glenn Llopis for The Huffington Post

In the world of media and entertainment, we are finally starting to see a positive shift in the portrayal of Hispanics. Cultural stereotypes are giving way to cultural authenticity. The attention usually given to Spanish-speaking Hispanics is turning to the English-speaking majority born in the United States. New Generation Latinos (NGLs) are making waves and changing the conversation. Not only are NGLs influencing traditional media, they are making Hispanics the biggest and fastest growing users of online and interactive technology, mobile devices, and social media.

This fact alone - their growing numbers online - makes them an important, if not the most important audience and consumer group. But also consider:

• Hispanics account for more than half of U.S. population growth over the past ten years. In one state, Illinois, 90% of the growth was Hispanic.

• The number of U.S.-born Hispanics has reached more than a million a year, for the first time surpassing immigration as the leading cause of growth.

• Many Hispanic groups have doubled their population in the U.S. in the last ten years.

"The Walt Disney Company may join Univision, the dominant Spanish-language broadcaster in the United States, in starting an English-language cable news channel this year." ~ From NY Times Media Decoder, February 6, 2012.

The Media & Entertainment industry has served the Hispanic community, when it's served them at all, through Spanish language news and programming. But for the most part, the industry has overlooked bilingual/bicultural Hispanics born in the U.S. Now that this group of NGLs makes up the majority of Hispanics living in the country, they can no longer be ignored.

And it seems they no longer are being ignored. In addition to the stories about Disney and Univision, Comcast Corporation recently announced the broad distribution of four new minority-owned independent networks over their Comcast Cable systems, two of which will be majority owned and operated by American Hispanics; programming will be English-language.

This market represents a huge opportunity for the news media, entertainment programmers, advertisers, online content creators - you name it. But captivating this trendsetting and game changing group will take a different approach, one the industry is just waking up to. Unlike previous generations, largely here through immigration, NGLs are not looking to quietly assimilate. They expect mainstream media and entertainment to embrace and reflect their authentic voice and culture. They want industry professionals, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, they can look up to as leaders and true representatives of the community. They look for show themes and storylines that connect to the Hispanic community and are culturally in tune with their lifestyle. And they seek balanced content with a nuanced approach that avoids portraying them as Latino with an exclamation point, which often leads to the stereotypes we commonly see in mainstream media.

"Though the show is focused exclusively on Latin artistry and culture, Q'Viva's ambitions don't wholly lie in the Spanish-language market...Fox will broadcast the show in English [and] the English version will have additional footage and will be edited specifically for mainstream TV viewers in the U.S." ~ From the LA Times, reporting on the new talent show Q'Viva, January 28, 2012.

With mainstream programmers taking the first tentative steps toward reaching the Hispanic audience, it's time to up the game. As the largest minority group in the U.S. - and growing every day - Hispanics have a surprisingly limited range of options when it comes to seeing themselves in the media, from nearly invisible to clearly stereotypical. Whether for entertainment or in the news, stories rarely mention much less focus on Hispanics, and most attempts at portraying Hispanic lives are saddled with stereotypes and preconceived notions. A Pew Research Center study on Media Coverage of Hispanics confirmed this fact when it concluded that the general public's knowledge of Hispanics is primarily colored by event-driven news stories and stereotypical portrayals instead of a more accurate and focused coverage of the community that portrays real individuals, their lives and experiences.

With the Oscar ceremony just telecast on February 26, it's also interesting to note a just published Los Angeles Times study that found less than 2% of Academy Award voters are Hispanic. Many respondents in the study saw this as a reflection of the lack of diversity in industry hiring and in the commercial narrative being told.

Positive stories are so rare that they do more to highlight the situation than alleviate it. Take for example the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an impactful news event but it represented a full third of all Hispanic-related coverage during the six month Pew study and left the rest of the community largely ignored. There is great potential here for media and entertainment companies to pick up the slack and the pace with more and broader portrayals of the community, based on real cultural values and life experiences, to both serve the Hispanic community and enlighten the general public.

"The Spanish-language video and its marketing support mark the restaurant chain's first national, online branded-content campaign targeting Hispanics, as well as the first national campaign from Denny's' new Hispanic agency, Casanova Pendrill." ~ From MediaPost News, February 2, 2012.

Not only are Hispanics an exceedingly important demographic for traditional media, they are the largest group of digital consumers and wireless users in the U.S., and companies and advertisers are starting to take notice. It's not just that their numbers are growing faster than any other group, although that's a factor; Hispanics are actually adopting mobile and online technologies faster than anybody else.

Just looking at how Hispanics are using smart phones and other digital mobile devices provides enough of an example. Not only are they more likely to use their mobile phones for more than making calls, such as watching videos and listening to music, they are also taking advantage of the interactive features. For instance, more than any other group they use their mobile phones when deciding what film to see. Considering that a third of regular movie goers in the U.S. are Hispanic, this is a key bit of information the industry can play upon to reach this audience, from mobile ads and banners, to search results and social media.

As Hispanic usage grows, so too will the demand for services tailored for their unique, diverse, and quickly evolving needs. Like the media and entertainment industry, telecommunications providers are recognizing the great need to understand the Hispanic consumer as they wake up to their rising purchasing power and influence. By all estimates, the Hispanic market will continue to spend more on telecommunication services than the general population, be the greatest consumers of mobile content, and stay more connected online than other groups.

These are the facts - are you prepared to capture your share of this market as we begin to see the emergence of the authentic Hispanic voice through the companies already taking the lead?

Learn more at www.CenterforHispanicLeadership.com or follow us on Twitter @HispanicTalent