Spanish is the one ray of sunshine in the perfect circulation storm now sinking US print and broadcast media, as Americans abandon old news ad-supported channels for the information freebee on the Web. Even though Hispanics are probably more digitally savvy than most other Americans, demographic is pushing growth in more traditional Spanish language media too.
Last month, the US Census reported that Hispanics accounted for more than half of US population growth between 2000 and 2010, some 15.2 million. That’s a growth market, and National Public Radio recently did a story on the media gold rush to serve this rapidly growing audience. General ad spending nationally is expected to grow by about 3.4% this year, but will likely reach 10% among Spanish language media. This is a big piece of business. With two Spanish language networks (Univision and Telemundo), 60 cable stations, 160 TV stations, 700 newspapers, and 300 radio stations, the Hispanic media industry in the US is huge.
Amherst professor Ilan Stavans considers the audiences served by the Hispanic Media a new category. These “New Latinos” represent a new kind of cosmopolitan global Spanish culture, as producers search for common threads to serve a diverse audience gathered in the US from throughout the Spanish-speaking world. That means it can be hard for viewers to figure out in which country a particular soap opera is set, as writers leave out regional details and actors drop local accents for a more generic North American broadcast Spanish.
With most of the growth among US Hispanics from births rather than immigration, bilingualism is the norm, and tuning in in Spanish is a choice rather than a requirement. English is always an alternative. Robert Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, conducted a survey several years ago that found Hispanics switch easily between English and Spanish to get their news.
“Rather than two audiences sharply segmented by language, the survey shows that many more Latinos get at least some of their news in both English and Spanish than in just one language or the other. Even fluent English speakers rely on Spanish language media to get news from Latin America and about Hispanic communities in the United States, and half of Latinos who were born abroad get at least some news in English.”
This makes the best language choice for reaching these audiences tricky. Last year’s Hispanic Cyber Study by AOL showed that Hispanic readers have little patience for bad or badly localized translation. Quality of content trumps language every time.
NPR also posted a link to The Ethnic Media in America: The Giant Hidden in Plain Sight. Sample size is small and the agenda seems more political than commercial, but better than nothing. The dramatic impact of non-English media in the US usually passes unnoticed in MMSM (Monoglot Mainstream Media).