By Minerva Canto
Special to TelevisionWeek
The explosive growth of the Latin American immigrant population in the United States has fueled the proliferation of Spanish-language media. In the past three years, the number of homes where Spanish is the dominant language has grown by about 19 percent to more than 5 million, nearly half of the total Latino TV households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Also, both English- and Spanish-dominant Latino households tend to watch more television in the daytime and prime time, regardless of their age, the data also show.
This translates into ultra-competitive media environments, especially in major markets like New York and Los Angeles, where many TV stations compete for the Spanish-language audience.
“Now, Spanish-language is competition to mainstream,” said Verónica Villafañe, a television news reporter for the past 14 years in San Jose, Calif., Los Angeles and other markets and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
“Up until three years ago, Univision’s morning newcast surpassed those of English-language stations, so there’s the question of, ‘What’s mainstream?'” The five largest markets of Spanish-language TV households, ranked in order: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago. Because of their sizable Latino populations, Miami and Houston TV stations have become major players in the Spanish-language market although they are not among the top five TV markets overall.
The growth of the Spanish-language audience has turned it into a coveted one, by both English- and Spanish-language television networks. The competition pits English- and Spanish-language television stations against each other in a mad scramble for advertising dollars.
Last week, a new poll conducted in 10 foreign languages revealed the wide reach of ethnic media. The poll, commissioned by the ethnic media coalition group New California Media, found that 87 percent of all Latinos access Spanish-language media regularly. Polls showed that there is a large group of people classified as primary consumers of ethnic media, but that another sizable group of people who typically prefer mainstream media are increasingly accessing ethnic media.
Those findings go hand-in-hand with other studies analyzing media usage by Latinos in the United States. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., last year found that a growing number of Latinos switch between English- and Spanish-language TV news.
The competition between English- and Spanish-language media has added fuel to the debate over whether Nielsen Media Research accurately measures the TV viewing habits of ethnic Americans.
In recent years, the television research firm has undertaken several steps to assuage criticism over its measuring methods. Earlier this year, Nielsen agreed to implement many of the recommendations made by an independent task force on measuring the TV viewing habits of diverse audiences.
The competition between Spanish- and English-language TV stations for viewers and advertising dollars has meant that the increasing number of Spanish-language journalists are enjoying more prestige, though not necessarily more pay or resources.
“I see that they have less resources,” Ms. Villafañe said. “It all depends, of course, on which size market we’re talking about. Obviously, the smaller the market, the smaller the pay.” The Los Angeles market is the one exception, perhaps because TV employees are union members, she said.
In past years, most English-language journalists have tended to treat their Spanish-language counterparts as “second-class citizens,” Ms. Villafañe said.
She was working in Spanish-language media when she first got involved with NAHJ. Early on, she realized the organization had little to offer her or other Spanish-language journalists, so she decided to create a workshop for journalists like her.
With so many Spanish-language journalists around now, it’s become an easier sell.
Ms. Villafañe notes that a first-ever study of Spanish-language journalists last year identified at least 4,000 working in Spanish-language media in the United States.
NAHJ currently has about 2,300 members, most of them working in English-language media.