Is Hollywood More Like Hollywouldn’t For Latinos?

By Joe Bernard (CRO, NGL Collective)

The opening monologue for the 2018 BET Awards hosted by Jamie Foxx reminded me to ask the question. You see, his comedic open was filled with acknowledgements and celebrations of the major entertainment wins for the African American community. From Black Panther to Michael B. Jordan, Jaime walked me down a list of TV and film achievements that were led by African American artists. He commented on how these achievements have pushed the culture forward and continue to expand on the African American narrative. Naturally, I began to consider the notable Latino achievements in entertainment. Where were they, and did those forward our cultural? While it seems there have been changes, has our narrative or our image in this country actually advanced? This is especially important for the state of the U.S. Hispanic media industry right now. So much of our future depends on an expanded understanding and showcase of who we are. Given the time of year and the industry I’m in, the first place I thought to look for signs of how Latinos faire in entertainment was to the swath of programming introduced at Upfronts. How would you score the Hispanic offerings shared by the various networks during the recent television Uupfront presentations? Forward progression or running in place? Let’s look at where we stand in Spanish- and English-language content.

First, Spanish-language media. While both leading broadcast networks are experimenting with new formats, like fewer episodes and unscripted, and new themes, like empowered female lead characters, for the most part, the tried and true genres, storylines and character narratives dominate.

Meanwhile, in English-language media, I am excited that we still have Jane The Virgin on the CW, that Jay Hernandez is the new Magnum P.I.,and that there’s a crop of talented and insightful executives offering up titles like VIDA on Starz, POSE on FX or a second season of a Latinized reboot of One Day At A Time on Netflix. NGL Collective partner John Leguizamo finally received a well-deserved Tony Award for his life’s work. It demonstrates the positive impact Latino representation can make in entertainment. In an era that has given us multicultural representation in films like Deep Water Horizon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Get Out, we can’t lose sight that there is still much to be done in order to appropriately fill the gap. Hopefully, the Areu Brothers can get an early win with their new studio venture.

Still, these two content tracks represent only part of the story when it comes to U.S. Latinos. Look at the numbers. With about 58 million Hispanics here in the U.S. (17% of the population),the industry pins arguably about $2.0 billion to the business of Spanish-language media, which draws only about 1.5 million in-language viewers on any given night for linear TV alone. While those ad dollars dedicated to a small portion of the total Hispanic population drive the Hispanic media marketing industry—and arguably even sets the tone of the cultural narrative in the eyes of many in receipt of those images—it doesn’t reflect the whole population. After all, Hispanic heritage doesn’t necessarily equate to Spanish-language dominance or to a preference for Spanish-language content.  

To be clear, there is no question that there is a need and a place for Spanish-language content. It’s essential and core to who we are. There’s clearly a cultural and entertainment value, and Univision and Telemundo continue to capture a better concentrated portion of Latinos than any current alternative offering. No matter how many Total Market planning approaches are executed, these networks deliver a good amount of the audience. But they are not immune to the disruption shaking up media and viewership habits across the industry.

In 2018, we must acknowledge the need for more than just that track from a content perspective. Advertisers and viewers alike are looking for a newer, current and equally authentic expression of content that matches today’s reality. To my fortune, I have never feared a cartel or had a family fortune stolen by my evil twin brother. That entertainment narrative has simply never been my reality. And over the passage of time, it hasn’t been the narrative of many. Is any of that pushing our culture forward? Or is that fueling a false interpretation of us, lending to stereotypes.

So, who’s speaking to the huge English only or Bilingual U.S. Latino? Who owns it?  Who’s catering to what some can argue to be millions of Latino viewerscurrently “undocumented” by today’s ratings methods and by today’s content makers?  There are tens of millions ofrelevant viewers, culture movers who don’t necessarily see themselves completely reflected in traditional Spanish-language programming and are so scattered everywhere else that it’s hard to point to them in aggregate.

Though some English-language media networks, cable providers, OTT services and independent digital creatorslook to cater to the “undocumented”Latino viewers, English only or Bilingualand even Spanish-dominant U.S. Latinos who crave a different sort of story; the offerings seem to come few and far between. For example, a recent industry analysis uncovered that between 2011 and 2015 approximately 1% of TV series and feature films had Latino actors in the top 10 roles. And according to the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report published by UCLA’s College of Social Sciences, new evidence from 2015-16 suggests that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content. It also goes on to illustrate how Hollywood studios are leaving money on the table by not developing films and TV shows with more diverse casts. The data demonstrated that TV shows with greater diversity typically get higher ratings and enjoy higher levels of social media engagement across all ethnic groups.

As an industry, rather than Get Out! we should be clamoring to say “Get In, Get Behind and Get In Front Of” more cameras so that our virtual programming highway is full of busy lanes that tell the complete, varied and relevant storyline that is to be a U.S. Latino.

That’s where new Latino media seeks to step up. As both a gap filler to the Latino narrative and as an incubator for many of the talented Latinos who can’t find a home within either universe. (True story – I remember, years ago, rapper Fat Joe once telling me that he didn’t feel welcome in the Hispanic media universe, yet at the time he was a Latino artist selling more records than many who were the staple of the Latino award shows.) New media companies, such as MiTú, Remezcla, Living with Latinos (and, yes, NGL Collective) are gaining momentum and strength among the creative communities and advertisers alike for their current and more relevant approaches to the U.S. Hispanic narrative. We have seen this renaissance before in the form of the cable TV networks (SiTV, Tr3s and mun2) but perhaps they came too early in the cycle, and perhaps the efficiencies and scale made possible in the digital world will tip the scale for the new crop of new Latino media. Never the less the content gap remains, and new media companies are rising to the challenge.

So, are we moving the Latino culture forward via media and entertainment?  I still think of the glass as half full.