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A relevancy revolution: the importance of Spanish language content

5 minute read | Stacie deArmas, SVP, Diverse Insights & Initiatives | February 2022

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. Or maybe it is the way 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. And for nearly three-fourths of all Latinos in the U.S. who speak Spanish, engaging in our language is un privilegio and a choice, not a necessity. 

So what does this engagement look like? Latinos today are demanding engaging, fresh, culturally relevant, and nuanced content on trusted platforms that value the unique U.S. Hispanic experience. This is so much more than just serving up “Spanish-language content”. It is our collective demand for meaningful, representative content that delivers a bridge to our culture; serving up a place to feel seen, and be seen in content. Interestingly, it is incredibly difficult to find that special combination outside of the Spanish language ecosystem. 

Let me explain. Much of the content Latinos are seeking is in Spanish, regardless of their “primary” language. For example, in our Spring 2021 national radio panel, we see that a full 74% of Hispanics who listen to Tejano music are English dominant, along with 40% of listeners of Latino Urban, with 69% of listeners of Spanish Tropical Format identifying as bilingual. Spanish language content doesn’t only draw in Spanish speakers. We see this phenomenon in TV too, where in 2021, a Spanish language show hit the top 10 list for all streamed content for all audiences in any language. 

All in all, 37% of all the impressions from Hispanic viewers to Spanish language content in May 2021 were from English-speaking Hispanics. 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 the programming audiences want

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.

When it comes to inclusion and representation, Latinos have firm expectations of content creators, media platforms, and brand creative. 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. Showing up in the right content matters. 

In a recent Nielsen study, we asked Hispanics how important representative content was to them. Approximately 60% of Latinos say they are more likely to watch content that features their identity group. Yet, 45% said they feel there is not enough representation of their identity group across TV. 

Unfortunately, they’re right. We make up 19% of the population, yet across all of broadcast television, streaming, and cable, Hispanic representation is about 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. 

This leaves us with the fact that Spanish language TV is among the most representative ecosystems on TV. Of course it is representative of Hispanics, but it also has the best gender representation found anywhere on TV. Women are being represented at or above parity across the Spanish language ecosystem, Afro-Latinos with visibility of more than 2x the population estimate and Hispanic LGBTQ+ are represented at parity on all Spanish language TV. 

Spanish language TV offers a space, beyond just the incredible representation, where thematic attributes and options are abundant for Latino presence because of the breadth of the programming. From news to novelas, from sitcoms to drama, Latinos on Spanish language TV are presented in the broadest range of thematic content. Simply put, because there is more content featuring Latinos, there are more positive portrayals and themes. 

Most importantly, there is a distinct difference 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 language TV delivers that magic with incomparable representation and inclusion. 

For additional insights, download Nielsen’s recent Being seen on screen report.

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