By Jeff Bercovici (Forbes)
For media companies scrambling to secure their places in the $1 trillion Hispanic market, launching new networks like News Corp.’s MundoFox and Comcast‘s El Rey is only part of the equation. The other part — attracting more Hispanic consumers to their existing, general-market offerings — is just as important, and may be the more difficult undertaking.
As noted in a recent FORBES cover story (co-reported with my colleague Dorothy Pomerantz) and again in today’s New York Times, many of the most popular sitcoms and dramas are more or less flops when it comes to their ratings among Hispanic viewers. Curiously, this is true even in the cases of shows like “Modern Family,” which stars Sofia Vergara, one of the most recognizable Latinas in show business (and the top-earning actress on television, period).
One person who’s spent a lot of time thinking about this conundrum is Lisa Quiroz, Time Warner‘s head of diversity. A longtime veteran of the media conglomerate and former publisher of People en Español, Quiroz was appointed to her current post in February, when CEO Jeff Bewkes decided the company needed someone thinking full-time about multicultural issues.
While Time Warner has firmly established itself in the Hispanic market with People en Español, CNN en Español and HBO Latino, that’s really only a beginning. With 90% of Hispanics born in the U.S. saying they watch TV in English, programming in Spanish clearly isn’t enough. “If you’re looking under the age of 30, it’s a new America, if you will,” says Quiroz. ”Those niche brands have been incredibly important to us to help us understand those markets. [But] the biggest opportunity for us right now are our general-market brands.”
Among those brands, HBO has had some modest success attracting Hispanic viewers to its shows, including “True Blood” and “Game of Thrones.” Both have an audience consisting about 11% of Hispanics. While that’s a lower proportion than the 16% of the overall population, it’s a good deal higher than “Modern Family,” the audience of which is only 6% Hispanic. And “Modern Family” stars Vergara, is set is Southern California and structured its season finale to resemble a telenovela. In contrast, ”I don’t think anyone would call ‘True Blood’ a Hispanic show,” says Quiroz.
What explains these discrepancies? Quiroz will be the first to tell you she doesn’t know. ”I don’t think anybody’s solved the puzzle yet of what content appeals to U.S.-born Hispanic adults,” she says. But at least Time Warner has a head start in recognizing the importance of figuring it out.