Latinos: A Niche With Reach


The U.S. Census Bureau in January released data which indicated that the nation's 37 million Hispanics are now its largest minority group. If that doesn't grab your attention, consider projections calling for that total to expand to nearly 44 million by 2010.

That's also the year when there will be more 13-year-olds than at any time since 1970 — the height of the baby boom. Young Latinos — whose influence on mainstream culture in urban markets is already growing, just ask your kids — will have an even more pronounced impact at that juncture.

Meanwhile, assimilation continues apace. Third- and fourth-generation Latinos are climbing up the economic ladder. Latinos are going to college, getting better jobs, making more money and buying more homes. Indeed, Hispanic buying is now estimated at some $540 billion per year.

This mainstreaming conflicts with the notion of Latinos, many of whom still live in multigenerational households, continuing to speak Spanish and retaining cultural ties to their homelands.

As Latinos' feet and tongues are in two worlds, they're not an easy market for cable operators or networks to target. Campaigns to tout digital Hispanic tiers and to pitch advanced services must be developed.

And finding one that works in one part of a market may not perform as well just a few miles away. Just look at the different strategies that operators and direct-broadcast satellite leader DirecTV Inc. have deployed in Los Angeles.

Moreover, messages that reach one family member may not click (or be able to be read or heard) by another. And community outreach programs that work in one market may not translate in other parts of the country.

Yet there's no shortage of activity and investment by companies interested in reaching this rapidly growing and diverse market. National 24-hour Spanish-language sports services have cropped up, and cable ops are expanding local news and weather services aimed at Hispanic viewers.

Meanwhile, Telemundo and cable cousin mun2, backed by parent NBC, are taking steps to spruce up their programming and marketing efforts as they try to secure more ad dollars. But these and other networks may find themselves hitting viewer and ad-budget walls as they try to make inroads against the formidable triad of Univision, Telefutura and Galavisión.

Many say the current Hispanic TV market is where the cable industry as a whole was in its infancy, a generation ago. Networks are trying to gain distribution toeholds that will ultimately translate into higher viewership and ad dollars. For their part, operators are trying to entice consumers to come on board for the first time or get extant subs to trade up to enhanced packages and services.

These are goals that will not be reached quickly. But many opportunities now exist, and more will present themselves down the road. If you haven't done so already, it's time to step onto the path. Be prepared, though, to change directions on the route into Hispanic homes.