Media targeting Hispanics in English


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A bad guy in a bad 1980s Mexican movie is surrounded by rival thugs who hold a gun to his head.

"Gordo, why don't you do something?" he calls out to his partner in a funny dubbed English voice.

"I can't unless 'Simon says,'" answers the partner, also in dubbed English.

"Well then, 'Simon says,'" replies the other.

The silly scene is part of "CircumSIZED Cinema," shown on cable's SiTV, which takes Mexican B-movies and lays down funny scripts that aim to give young Hispanics a laugh in English.

But Hispanics getting their TV in English is no joke these days.

Reaching out to them in English, or in a combination of English and Spanish, is a growing nationwide trend in television, radio and print media.

"Young Hispanics are consuming media in English, regardless of what they speak at home," said Jeff Valdez, co-founder of SiTV, launched in 2004 with English-language programs from sitcoms to music shows that are geared toward Hispanics.

SiTV's tag-line is "Speak English. Live Latin." It now reaches 11 million homes - up from 5 million two years ago - in cities with heavy Hispanic populations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Detroit and multiple Texas locations.

The target is one of the country's fastest growing demographics: millions of young, second- and third-generation Hispanics who've grown up speaking both languages, or in some cases only English.

Cable television stations like SiTV and Mun2, along with radio stations like Latino 96.3 in Los Angeles and New York-based La Kalle 105.9, have bilingual or straight English-language formats targeting Hispanics.

A handful of TV networks are developing English versions of telenovelas - Spanish-language soap operas popular throughout Latin America - hoping to appeal to a wide American audience that includes English-speaking Hispanics.

And English articles sprinkled with common Spanish phrases fill the pages of national magazines like Latina, Hispanic Business and Los Angeles-based Tu Ciudad (Your City).

"The real future of the Hispanic targeted media and advertising is in English," said David Morse, president of New American Dimensions, a multicultural marketing research company.

Catering to that market can be lucrative.

In May, Latino 96.3 radio scrapped its Spanish contemporary music for "Spanglish" speaking DJs who play reggaeton, a Caribbean fusion that mixes hip-hop and Latin beats and has become increasingly popular with Americans.

Today the station is No. 1 on weekends and No. 7 overall in one of the nation's largest and most competitive radio markets, according to the latest ratings from research firm Arbitron Inc. Before the switch it was No. 18 overall.

In-house research found that nothing on the FM dial was catering to bilingual or purely English-speaking Hispanics, despite many Spanish-language stations in Los Angeles, said David Haymore, general manager for Spanish Broadcasting System, which owns Latino 96.3.

Producers also believed that reggaeton, whose artists often mix English and Spanish in songs, was being embraced by young Hispanics, he said.

"Conventional wisdom says that to cater to the Latino market, it's got to be done in Spanish," said Haymore. "But that is simply not the case."

For decades, the growing Hispanic population - now over 40 million people with an annual buying power that marketers estimate around $700 billion - has been a target for businesses.

But only in recent years have marketers focused on linguistic or cultural distinctions within Hispanic communities, said Mary Griswold, a radio consultant in Los Angeles.

"People often use the word Hispanic and Spanish interchangeably," she said. "But there are many Hispanics who don't speak Spanish."

Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford University's School of Business, said research shows targeting Hispanics in just Spanish can even backfire because the younger generations see themselves as English speakers.

The reaction can be "'They are targeting me and assuming I don't speak English,'" said Aaker. "For younger generations, that may be a condescending assumption."

Of course, there are many Hispanics who still consume media in Spanish; Los Angeles-based Univision is one of the country's most-watched television networks and has purely Spanish-language programing.

In radio, there are nearly 700 Spanish-language stations nationwide. But many of them, especially those with the Hispanic urban format called "hurban," are expanding to include more English.

Targeting Hispanics in bilingual or English formats isn't always successful.

The Latin Grammys were dropped by CBS after 2004 when an English-language format failed to attract high ratings in the first years of the show. Last year, the Latin Grammys were broadcast in Spanish on Univision, increasing the number of viewers to over 5 million compared to 3.2 million on CBS the previous year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

While media experts say the need for Spanish-language programming won't change - millions of immigrants are new arrivals from Latin American countries - the push toward English for younger generations is clear.

About 60 percent of Hispanics living in the United States are U.S. born, according to the U.S. Census of 2000. More than half of Spanish speakers also reported speaking English well, according to census data.

For Nico Jones, a 29-year-old Latino 96.3 disc jockey who was born in Texas to Mexican-American parents, speaking both English and Spanish has always been a part of his life.

"There is a whole generation of bilingual Latinos out there," said Jones. "It's the American influence. Do we watch David Letterman and `Desperate Housewives'? Of course we do."


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