Do Latinos Still Watch TV?


August 9, 2011

I’m old enough to remember the first incarnation of the company called Nielsen, and the role it played in helping advertisers understand the potential of a then-new thing called television. Back in the day, Nielsen would regularly poll a panel of TV viewers and collect and dissect a wide range of metrics that brands could then use for their planning. Back then, TV was the newest, biggest, baddest thing in advertising, and its rapid ascent brought Nielsen a great deal of fame.

Of course, life is now harder for Nielsen and any other organization looking to measure video consumption. There are more devices, more modalities, and more metrics that matter to brands. One set of metrics is about adoption patterns of ethnic minorities, some which appear to be outpacing the general population in technology adoption. Still, it came as a surprise to me when I saw this headline last week: “New Nielsen Study Shows Hispanics Watch Less TV Than Whites and African-Americans.”

Really? The group – or shall I say metatribe – that has made at least one ethnic television such a powerhouse that it now rivals mainstream TV channels (even beating them in the ratings game on occasion)? Last time I checked – even with my own family (more on that below) – TV is still a very big thing in the lives of Latin Americans. The novella hasn’t died, Latino sports are going strong, and, yes, even some of the more unsavory things about Latin American TV still create conversation in intelligent circles mostly because they’re so pervasive. Spanish-language TV is very much alive, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Like with most studies, the latest from Nielsen can be spun to create lots of different headlines. First, the study found that TV in general was in very good shape. On average, Americans are watching 22 more minutes of TV per month than last year. It’s an important finding, for one of the dominant memes in the online marketing world is that TV is already in decline. It’s not that simple. What the Nielsen study shows is a complex set of issues that all marketers – especially those targeting Latinos – will need to understand:

The Big Flip

The study creates a fairly complex picture of ethnic-minority adoption of video content. On the one hand are a set of statistics on TV consumption. Putting the precise numbers aside, if you were to rank the four groups studied by Nielsen – whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians – according to their consumption of appointment-based TV, you’d get this:

  1. African-Americans
  2. Whites
  3. Latinos
  4. Asians

Now, if you were to combine the rankings for appointment-based TV and time-shifted TV, you’d get this:

  1. Whites
  2. African-Americans
  3. Asians
  4. Latinos

That’s right – if you were to give equal weight to the rankings for appointment-based TV and time-shifted TV, Latinos would come dead last. That would not only support the headline that caught my attention, but add an extra dose of drama. But another set of metrics adds complexity to the story. If you were to combine the relative rankings for the four groups in the areas of streaming on the web, streaming on mobile, and general smartphone adoption, you’d get this:

  1. Latinos
  2. Asians
  3. African-Americans
  4. Whites

Yep, the combined rankings for metrics that looked at other screens besides TV put Latinos on top (though pretty close to Asians). And remember the last chart where whites were at the top of the list? Here they are on the bottom.

As Latinos Go…

That’s a significant inversion – a big flip – and it should encourage marketers to ask how this might play over time. One of the more interesting things about the ethnic-minority marketing story is how youth appear to be influencing the numbers. In fact, the Nielsen study found that a big portion of consumers indexing higher for Internet and mobile video consumption are younger, while consumers indexing higher in traditional TV consumption are older. No surprise, maybe, but what’s worth noting is how the youth metrics are likely to play out over time, particularly among ethnic groups that are growing faster. I am of course referring to Latinos. As the recent Census survey shows, today one in six Americans is Latino. By 2050, it will be three in 10, close to one-third of all Americans.

Watch for a new catchphrase describing the role of Latinos in the evolution of our national identity: “As Latinos go, so goes the nation” (apologies to the state of Maine). If you accept that, the trend is that we will inevitably migrate to other devices. It’s a trend that most savvy marketers and media companies accept. But for folks that market to Latinos, this is not a distant reality. It’s already happening.

Our Many Screens

That of course means that marketing to Latinos – the subject of this bi-weekly column – is only going to get harder. The big screen isn’t going to go away, and the new screens are getting more interesting. In the meantime, the consumption of video content appears to be increasing in the aggregate, and that’s a challenge for everyone.


I was reminded of this over the weekend. My family and I took a trip to our mountain cabin, and the first thing our nine-year-old said when we got there was, “this place is so boring…there’s only two screens.” The first screen was the cabin TV, which could only play videos and DVDs because we don’t have cable up there. The second screen was my 3G iPad, because our laptops and smartphones are useless to him without Wi-Fi. Of course, we were able to talk him down (there’s so much more to do in mountains), but moments like this are always a struggle for a family whose home has 10 functioning screens – three TVs, two laptops, two iPads, one iPod, one smartphone, and one almost-smartphone (it has a screen). And we’re not that unusual. Maybe not your typical Latino family, but we do have all the gear, and honestly it’s a bit too much. In the end, the responsibility for managing or reducing the screens in one’s life lies with the consumer. But I’d sure welcome the help of anyone in the industry. It could be the next wave of innovation.