Hispanic Interests Move to Mainstream

Nov 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

When people in the business want to know what Hispanic TV viewers in the U.S. are thinking, feeling and watching, they turn to CAA executive Christy Haubegger, be­cause she knows the Hispanic market.
In 1996 the Mexican American native of Houston came up with the idea for a magazine for Hispanic women. She founded Latina maga zine and ran it until 2002, when she moved to California.
“I worked as an executive producer on the James L. Brooks film ‘Spanglish.’ And now at CAA, I really work throughout the agency helping our clients understand or take advantage of some of these emerging new demographics,” Ms. Haubegger said.
More than most TV industry insiders, she has her finger on the pulse of the Spanish-language market. “I was probably Latino before it was cool,” she said. “When I was in law school at Stanford, I took some business classes. The 1990 census had come out a few years earlier and I was a big magazine reader, and I was very much struck by the fact that while African American women had Essence magazine, women like me never had a magazine of our own.
“I started Latina at a time when everyone was beginning to think about the demographics. But you have to imagine, we had this woman named Jennifer Lopez on our first cover, and it’s interesting to note that she was an unknown actress at that time. We thought she might be big at some point. We got very lucky. You have to realize that people weren’t focusing on the demographics then, not in the way they are now.”
Now, more than ever, the TV industry has caught on to the importance of appealing to the Latino market, Ms. Haubegger said: “Ten years ago, while demographers were talking about the Hispanic market, you hadn’t seen it as such a news topic as it is today. This is a group that is now the largest minority, but more importantly, they are so geographically concentrated in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, that you can’t win a night in terms of television ratings without the Hispanic market behind you.”
Looking at the slate presented by the broadcast networks, Ms. Hau­beg­ger sees all of the Big Four addressing Hispanic viewers, with ABC leading the way. “This is something that’s very strategic on the part of ABC’s Steve McPherson. He’s been widely quoted talking about the need for multicultural casting, and so every night you can see a Latino on ABC in prime time,” said Ms. Haubegger.
“People may have tuned in to ABC for ‘George Lopez’ or ‘Ugly Betty,’ but they’ve ended up staying the rest of the week. As a result, what you find is that while CBS has five of the top 20 shows in the general market, in the Hispanic market among English-speaking Hispanics, ABC has five of the top 20 shows.
“One of the things that has been very interesting—and it has also been very helpful to ABC in terms of their overall youth of their audience—[is that] on average the Hispanic audience is 11 years younger than general market,” she continued. “The average age is 27. If you can bring that group in demographically, they’re very good eyeballs to have watching your shows.”
Taking a cue from the demographics, CBS is going after Latino viewers. “‘Cane’ on CBS is super-smart,” she said. “One of the things that’s really interesting is that people think it’s like ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Falcon Crest,’ the great dynastic family saga, but really it’s a telenovela, and things like that are very appealing [to Hispanic viewers].”
Still, from Ms. Haubegger’s point of view, ABC’s strategy is the most focused. “I’m interpreting both the ratings and the effort by ABC,” she said. “If you look at the ratings among the Hispanic households, ABC does better than all the other networks. … I would say it’s because they’ve integrated Hispanics into their shows, from Eva Longoria on ‘Desperate Housewives’ to ‘Ugly Betty’—essentially every night there’s an interesting opportunity for you to see somebody who looks like you,” she said.
“One of the things you realize is that among Hispanics watching English-language television—which are largely Hispanics born here in the United States—very few of them live in an all-Hispanic world. They’re integrated into the rest of the world. They may be like Sara Ramirez on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or America Ferrera on ‘Ugly Betty’; they are one of the first, or one of the few, in their offices or in their workplaces. Dealing with that and seeing that experience mirrored is enormously resonant.”
Even if Jorge Garcia’s character is the only Hispanic on the island in “Lost,” his inclusion represents progress, Ms. Haubegger added. “I always thought it was bizarre when you’d see these ensemble comedies in prime time in major cities like New York or Los Angeles with no Latinos in them,” she said. “New York is 30% Latino and Los Angeles is 50% Latino. What world were they reflecting? TV’s always been another world, but in particular when it comes to Hispanics.”
The success of “Ugly Betty,” which was adapted from a Spanish-language telenovela, may be a harbinger of things to come across the TV landscape. “What you’ll see is a lot more Hispanic voices and, much like ‘Ugly Betty,’ you’ll see Hispanic voices for all ears. You’ll see the telenovela format re-created in an American way,” Ms. Haubegger predicted.
“I think you’re going to see more of format-borrowing from telenovelas. Latinos are 15% of the population, but we’re nowhere near that in prime-time characters yet, and I think you’re going to see the gap on that close … very quickly. Folks who want to win in big cities like Miami, where the audience is 40% Hispanic, or in L.A. … will realize they have to deliver this audience in parity with what it represents in terms of dollars.”
Questions remain, though, about access and language. How will the networks capture viewers who are more comfortable in Spanish than in English? And will a clear front-runner stake a claim to the English-speaking Latino market? To some extent, the answers are beginning to materialize.
“If you look at the whole Hispanic market, about 42 million of us, about half are really more comfortable in Spanish and the other half are more comfortable in English,” said Ms. Haubegger. “The half that’s more comfortable in Spanish is watching Spanish-language television, but nobody has put a flag in the ground to say we’re going to be your English-language network. I think ABC has come as close to that as possible. ABC, for example, [recently] had a Hispanic press day and invited not just their Hispanic cast members, but they had English-language, general-market, non-Hispanic cast members being interviewed by Hispanic press. That press doesn’t typically get invited to the regular press junkets [or] have all the materials and information available in Spanish.
“A lot of people watch telenovelas because they don’t speak English very well, and then a lot of people watch Spanish-language TV because it’s comfort food. So Univision carries Televisa’s programming from Mexico. Imagine if you moved to another country and suddenly NBC was available on a network that you could receive—of course you’d watch.
“I think the big challenge is that no one has really taken on that task. There’s a lot of programming from where you’re from, but not a lot of programming from where you are. To take that on is an access question, certainly. For 20% to 25% of Hispanic Americans, they simply do not speak English well yet. … The second question is one of culture and preference.”
Ms. Haubegger gives NBC Universal a thumbs-up for its crossover strategy, in which it uses its entire slate of networks to reach the Hispanic market. “I think they’re very smart about the cross-use of talent,” she said.
At CAA, she supervises the Intelligence Group’s study of Hispanic youth. “What we saw in that study is that Hispanic young people thought Telemundo was cooler than Univision,” she said. “The ratings don’t reflect that, but that’s the perception. They said because they know Telemundo is owned by NBC—because they do a lot of cross-promotion—they felt they were seeing a more Americanized version of life. They have shows about Hispanics in the U.S. The tele­novelas they’re shooting are about very relevant stories and current issues. They are giving Telemundo credit for that.
“I think we’re just now seeing the fruits of what can happen when the two work together. … They are really trying to create a cradle-to-grave strategy for the Hispanic market, but it’s in its early days right now. They’re being very smart trying to find synergy between the two worlds.”
NBC has found success with synergy via alternative platforms. “There’s a really good example of that with mun2, NBC/Telemundo’s cable network. They have a fantastic Web site,” said Ms. Haubegger. “Because it is youth-oriented for English-speaking young Hispanics, it can teach some lessons about how to reach young Hispanics through mobile space.”
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