As a first-generation Latina in the U.S., I often hear, “Really, you don’t look Cuban.” Maybe it’s my light skin or my name. “Estacie” doesn’t exactly translate very easily. Perhaps it’s the other person’s familiarity with Cuban actors or musicians. Maybe it’s the way that I speak English.
I often respond in Spanish “Si, soy Cubana,” knowing I am possibly opening myself up to a language duel—or quizas muchas preguntas.
You see, the thing about language proficiency is that it isn’t a proxy for language preference or choice. Meaning: how and when I choose to speak Spanish or how well you might think I speak English, isn’t representative of my personal language preference for connection. For nearly three-quarters of Latinos who live in the U.S., speaking Spanish is an un privilegio, a choice and not a necessity.
What does engagement actually look like? Today’s Latinos demand engaging, new, culturally-relevant, and nuanced content via trusted platforms that respect the U.S. Hispanic experience. This is so much more than just serving up “Spanish-language content”. Our collective desire for authentic, meaningful content is what makes this a bridge to culture. It allows us to be visible and heard in our content. It’s not easy to find the right combination of words and phrases outside the Spanish language environment.
Let me explain. Much of the content Latinos are seeking is in Spanish, regardless of their “primary” language. In our spring 2021 radio panel, 74% of Hispanics listen to Tejano music. 40% of Latino Urban listeners are English-speaking. 69% of Spanish Tropical Format listeners identify as bilingual. Spanish language content doesn’t only draw in Spanish speakers. The phenomenon can also be seen on television, as a Spanish-language TV show topped the list of all streaming content in 2021 for all languages.
Hispanic viewers to Spanish content were responsible for 37% of the total impressions in May 2021. That’s more than 50 million impressions, showing how Spanish language programming delivers more than in language programming—it delivers a world where Hispanics, of any language proclivity, find relevance and community.
And if those examples of the power of Spanish language content to deliver engaged English speakers aren’t enough to convince you, look to social media to see the growing Spanish language presence all over English speakers’ social media feeds. Young U.S.-born Hispanics are influencing today’s most newsworthy and fun trends, by sharing Spanish-language content ushering its cross over to general market pop culture. Late last year the popular “no me importa” remixes on TikTok or the “Mi Mujer Me Gobierna” dance remixes on Instagram Reels, each with millions of views flooded your English-language feed. This is happening because the meaning—that specific sentiment—can only be expressed in Spanish; so we share it leading to its consumption by English and Spanish speakers alike.
Delivering programming that audiences desire
As the data illustrates, language reliance isn’t the reason why Latinos consume Spanish content; Spanish language content is consumed because more than anything, it delivers programming that is meaningful where we are represented.
Latinos expect representation and inclusion from content creators and media outlets. So the urgency to get representation right is real: Latinos want to see a range of their lived experiences, intersectional identities, and ethnic plurality on TV—not just one or two characters in a larger cast. And for brands with the increased scrutiny around social equity—being in content where Latino storylines are told authentically, is a brand safety measure, good corporate citizenship, and really good business. Being in the right content is crucial.
A recent SME survey asked Hispanics what the importance of representative content. A majority of Latinos feel more inclined to view content that features members of their own identity groups. However, only 45% feel that TV does not adequately reflect their identity groups.
Unfortunately, they’re right. Hispanics account for 19%, but Hispanic representation in all media, including streaming and cable, is around 10%. When we remove Spanish language TV content from that bucket the representation number drops to 6%—telling us that a large proportion of Latino representation on the TV glass is actually coming from Spanish language TV.
The Spanish-language television is one of TV’s most representative environments. It is not only representative of Hispanics but also offers the highest level of gender representation on television. The Spanish language ecosystem has women represented at least parity. Afro-Latinos have visibility greater than 2x that of the population and Hispanic LGBTQ+ are also represented at parity.
Spanish language TV is a place beyond its incredible representation. The breadth and variety of the programming offers Latinos a wide range of themes and options. Spanish TV has the most diverse range of programming for Latinos. Simply put: Latinos on Spanish language TV have more positive representations and themes because of the increased content.
The most important difference is between visibility and quality representation. There is magic in good storytelling, but if we aren’t represented and present in those stories, or if we are just passing by in a scene, then we are left out of that magic. Spanish TV is a wonderful medium for capturing the magic of Spanish with unparalleled representation and inclusion.
For additional insights, download SME’s recent Being seen on screen report.