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How Hispanic Radio Evolves to Changing Audience
“There’s been an explosion in Spanish,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters Corporation in Washington, D.C. “The growth of Spanish has been phenomenal.”
The broad reach of Spanish-language radio reflects the majority of the US Hispanic population, currently estimated at around 54 million, but also stems from a culture of radio enthusiasts and music lovers.
According to 2014 data from Nielsen Audio, 93.1 percent of Hispanics listen to the radio weekly, compared to 91 percent of Americans (including Spanish). Latinos also tune in more than other demographic groups, averaging 12 and 43 minutes of listening per week, respectively; Only African-Americans lead Latinos by 16 minutes in listening time, which tends to be an older audience compared to younger-skewing Hispanic radio listeners.
For Hispanics, the peak time to tune in is between 10am and 3pm, as opposed to the morning and afternoon peak market times. “There are so many Latinos in the service industry that they’re listening at work,” said Federico Subervi, a journalism professor at Kent State University in Ohio who studied Spanish-language radio.
Latinos’ love of music is also evident. They spend more on music — $135 a month compared to an average of $105 a month, according to Nielsen.
A combination of these factors helped nearly double the number of Spanish-language stations since the turn of the century. 600 Spanish AM/FM spots in 2001, the first year of Nielsen Audio statistics; In 2014, there were 1,001. Digital radio trends followed: In 2010, Nielsen Audio reported 661 Hispanic HD and online streaming channels; 820 in 2014.
The growth trend shows no signs of slowing down. As Latino immigrants move to new areas across the country with their jobs, radio stations are opening and renovating to serve them. For example, Mexican regionals (the most popular Spanish format) are now heard on Southwest Florida’s 105.3 FM, (WZSP) La Zeta, home to traditional tropical music, while Latin pop tunes debuted last year on Cleveland’s 87.7. FM (WLFM) La Mega.
“A lot of entrepreneurs see the market opportunity,” said Thomas Martinez, CEO of Miami-based Solmart Media, which owns WZSP-FM in Southwest Florida and regional dance music station WZSS-FM in Mexico.
The increase in viewership is a better quality than when AM and FM broadcast in Spanish, said Frank Sacks, managing director of InsideRadio, the industry’s trade magazine. “As the economy improves, more broadcasters are willing to take risks,” Sachs said.
Spanish-language broadcasters are also at the forefront of digital radio trends. With higher-than-average smartphone usage among Latinos, Spanish radio has gone digital, even requiring on-air talent to stay active on popular social media platforms, as well as investing heavily in online strategies.
Entravision Communications, one of Spain’s largest radio owners with 49 stations, last year signed Pulpo Media, an online advertising service for Spanish consumers, in an $18 million deal to boost its mobile and digital advertising efforts.
New York-based Sun Broadcast Group, which operates Sun Latino, the largest independent Hispanic network in the U.S. with 283 locations, earlier this year signed a deal with Shazam, an app that allows listeners to access song details on their smartphones. to be offered to radio stations as part of their programming services.
Digital efforts must remain relevant for Spanish-language radio to the growing population of English-dominant Hispanics, industry observers say. Entravision, based in Santa Monica, California, will provide English-language coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign later this year on some of its websites.
Other broadcasters are moving the format to bilingual or all English to achieve varying levels of success with the 18-34 demographic. Univision Radio, Spain’s largest radio company with 69 stations, switched Dallas station 107.9 KESS-FM from a regional Mexico format to a predominantly English-tempo hit in 2012, but returned to regional Mexico in 2013.
“The Hispanic population is a young population, so it’s even more imperative that Spanish-language operators adapt programming for younger listeners,” Sacks noted. “But the bilingual formats didn’t fare so well.”
Listeners who prefer English tune to general-market stations when they want, and Spanish-language programming that general-market stations don’t carry, he said.
That’s the main reason broadcasters expect demand for Spanish-language radio to continue. “We offer the music we grew up with and information that affects our lives in the Spanish community,” Martinez said. “Take immigration. You won’t find a general market station where it takes you five minutes to get your documents.”
The challenge for Spanish-language stations is accurate ratings. Rating services have long struggled to sign up enough Hispanics to wear portable meters that track their radio and TV consumption throughout the day. Immigrant families in particular are suspicious of the device and reluctant to participate. When a representative sample of a Nielsen demographic group cannot be recorded, the sample is weighted using statistical calculations. Radio executives complain that one family’s listening habits are disproportionately counted, leading to skewed listener numbers.
“The PPM rating changed everything,” notes Shawn Ross, editor of the Ross Radio Newsletter. “It coincided with a drop in Spanish and city ratings.”
Many broadcasters, including Martinez, are advocating for the industry to move to a “return on investment” model for selling ads, which requires user actions to be attributed to ad campaigns, which can be done through social media or websites.
This issue is especially important for Spanish-language radio. In addition to the risk of ratings bias, advertising rates are lower than conventional market stations. NAB’s Wharton said he expects that to change as advertisers see the importance of reaching Hispanic consumers. “Over time, it will work itself out because the economic pie that Latinos represent. They deserve the market value that they bring to the audience,” he said.
Going forward, Spanish-language radio is expected to grow with more formats, more mobile and online delivery, and advertising. The bottom line: “Spanish stations offer products that the general market doesn’t offer,” says Martinez.
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