It’s no surprise that Spanish-language TV attracts big audiences. But within those large numbers, the dynamics are changing. In the past, immigration supplied a steady stream of young adult viewers in search of entertainment that connected them to their home countries. The young viewers of today, however, are different from previous generations. They have a different relationship to Spanish-language programming — and increasingly, they are tuning in to English-language content.
A change in demographics is one of the driving forces behind this shift. For instance, Mexican immigration has slowed to a halt just as the children of earlier immigrants are starting to enter adulthood. Unlike their ancestry, the majority of young Hispanics have lived all or most of their lives in the U.S.
Today, 59% of adult Hispanic Millennials (age 18 to 29) were born in the U.S., according to Simmons. While Hispanics in their 30s and 40s are often lumped into the same advertiser demos, they are far less likely to have been born here. Just 34% of Latinos over 30 are U.S. natives.
Owing to this generational rift, bilingualism reigns in Hispanic households. Nearly 70% of Hispanic adults live in a household where a mix of Spanish and English are spoken. For young Latinos today, language choice is situational. They might speak more Spanish at home and more English with friends, at school, and at work. Hispanic Millennials have an emotional connection to Spanish, but they also have a more laissez-faire attitude toward language than previous generations because they grew up in a bilingual world.
When it comes to TV, however, young Latinos watch more content in English. April 2012 Nielsen data shows that 61% of viewing among Hispanics 18 to 29 went to English-language TV. Breaking this down further, it’s clear that younger age correlates with higher English-language TV consumption: 65% of viewing among Hispanics 18 to 24 was in English, vs. 57% for Hispanics 25 to 29. If we look at Hispanic teens – tomorrow’s young adults – 77% of viewing was in English.
Yet the fact that more viewing among young Latinos is happening in English doesn’t necessarily mean they prefer this content because it’s in English. They do like Spanish-language programming — but variety and sheer quantity drive their viewing choices more than language, according to the 2011 Maximo Study. They are attracted to programming that reflects their lifestyle and interests, and much of that is produced in English. Since they for the most part came-of-age in the U.S., content that targets Millennials broadly appeals to them.
Hispanic Millennials crave better representation in entertainment. 64% of Maximo Study respondents said they would be more likely to attend a movie if it had a story about Latinos in the U.S., a story about Latinos in Latin America, or a Latino lead in an ensemble cast.
When asked what type of programming they’d like to see more of on TV, 49% said they want to see more bilingual, bicultural content that represents who they really are. By comparison, 31% want to see more “mainstream” English programs like Glee and American Idol; 11% want more Spanish- only programming from Latin America like novelas and soccer games; and a mere 9% would like more Spanish-only programming produced in the U.S. like Sábado Gigante.
One thing is clear: the old rules for reaching young Hispanics no longer apply. Hispanic Millennials are attracted to nuanced content that understands their complex cultural reality – in either language, or both.
Pew Hispanic Center, “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero – and Perhaps Less,” April 23, 2012 Simmons Fall 2011 NHCS Adult Survey 12-month