The Globalization of Hispanic Media

by Geraldine Paz

Hispanics in the United States are made up of a diverse population of great complexity due to cultural differences resulting from their countries of origin. The word “Hispanic” is used as an umbrella term for people of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican and any other Spanish or Latino cultural origin. The cultural diversity of this demographic shapes the way content for websites is produced. For example, Hispanics in the US use the internet to find news about their home countries, therefore Spanish language news outlets need to cover stories from many Spanish speaking countries. Among others, we find news pertinent to Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and El Salvador.

The importance of global media has expanded due to technological advances. For example, specific programming from AOL Latino involves the expansion of activities beyond the boundaries of particular nation-states. Editors from different parts of the world (Mexico or Argentina) exchange local content with their American counterparts and vice versa.

This project is based on: (1) my observations of current examples of Hispanic online media texts and (2) findings of a recent ethnographic research study conducted by an American market research consultancy firm. (Due to proprietary issues, the firm’s name must remain anonymous.) For purposes of cultural differentiation in the media business today, US Hispanics can be better understood through their level of “acculturation,” a term that explains the level of assimilation of Hispanics.

The firm’s survey research undertaking interviewed 3,386 people ages 16-54 around the United States and took a look at culture by being sensitive to underlying themes that people express. The study segments the populations and goes deep within the Hispanic group to gain a richer understanding of their lives. Other methods used to create media dedicated to a specific group includes: ethnography and digital ethnography, observations, Hispanic literature and Hispanic media, all of which show that: a) The complexities of the Hispanic demographic as a niche group require a more sophisticated degree of understanding; b) Shifts in the Hispanic market impact Hispanic niche media as well as “mainstream” media; c) Multiculturalism influences all audiences, creating new needs.

I will take for example websites produced in Spanish to suit the needs of today’s Hispanics. The Internet has made it possible to accelerate, extend the reach, and lower the costs of all forms of communications. For some people technology encourages regionalization and localization and is viewed as a disadvantage. However, this contradiction is a characteristic of globalization and it equates to growth in economic integration.

Celebrity news is understood to be a leading driver for any media organization. User metrics show time and time again that people want to know as much as possible about their favorite celebrities and their activities. Celebrity gossip is part and parcel of that user interest. In 2008, celebrity-related content (articles and photos) accounted for 27% of all AOL Latino website page views, far and away the largest driver of their traffic in that year.

Just within AOL we can see successful examples of sites that revolve around celebrities, but that have also preferred to separate the more formal news side of things, like the mainstream website Pop from that of the more gossipy side of things like The development of a dedicated website in Spanish like is based upon the same reasoning.

An additional element is found in US Hispanics and Mexicans: they have hybrid needs. Two trends are present in these websites: biculturalism and cross-border marketing. US Hispanics want to know about their favorite Hollywood movie stars, their favorite Mexican telenovela stars or their favorite Colombian rock stars.

There are few stand-alone sites specific to celebrity gossip as it interests US Hispanic and Mexican users. The leading sites are mostly channels within the major Latin portals, with a few independent sites like La Botana and Popchisme being well ranked via online search. The need to develop a media vehicle for this niche audience is evident.

Let’s take a look at another Spanish dedicated website produced in the United States This website addresses the need to help parents understand the technology their children use everyday. From security concerns to social networking, Hispanic parents can utilize this website as a reference tool. Its mainstream American counterpart does the same thing for the non-technically savvy parent.

Another traditionally Hispanic cultural product is the telenovela. This genre of television content is mostly produced in Latin America or Mexico. Due to the growth of the Spanish speaking population in the US, there are newer productions of telenovelas made in the US to serve a specific audience. Initiatives to produce telenovelas for the US Hispanic audience began recently in Miami. The soap operas, transmitted by the Hispanic television networks, are being adapted for the American Hispanic audiences generally. Dramatic story lines in Latin America generally relate the history of a beautiful protagonist and her ascent from poverty after she falls in love and finds fortune. Telenovelas enjoy popularity around the world and have been translated to many languages, from Hebrew to Japanese. Different from American soap operas which never end, these melodramas last between three and six months. Telenovelas nowadays aren’t only of cultural significance to Latin Americans. As the producers try to attract American spectators, not only do they film in the United States but they look for arguments that interest a wider audience: over 40 million of Latin Americans in the US.

An Online Creative Production project for Hispanics

Due to the fascination with everything American, but specially the fascination with a New York lifestyle, the above website was created as a vehicle for Latin Americans who seek to know the latest trends in the metropolis. I came up with the concept of creating an online hub that allows for sharing experiential accounts and keeps close ties to my Latin American roots and values. The Spanish and partly English website includes personal accounts and articles of pop-culture, celebrity, media and lifestyle. I will emphasize quickness and timeliness of content from bloggers, partners and feeds, and on visitors’ interaction around that content like comments, boards, polls snaggable widgets. Features are presented in a differentiated tone from that of a website created for the Latino that lives in the US only and has become popular reading for those culturally addicted to all things Latino.

Blog posts should be strongly opinionated, touching upon users’ passions for/against the gossip being reported. Photo and video usage should seek to illustrate the personal side of a Latin person living in New York. Posts should immediately seek to engage the user further, via links to related stories, chats for breaking news, threads for ongoing stories, links to celebrity/artist pages in other Spanish language websites, and so forth.

The site will utilize interactive technologies to include the audience in the content experience, initially through the ability to post comments to blogs, sharing via social networks and social bookmaking sites. In addition, a well-designed, snaggable widget should be created for users to take with them to keep up with the latest Gema posts.

The audience for Gema will mostly come from Facebook and other social Networking sites. The project combines the efforts of three contributors: Geraldine Paz, Juan Diego Soto and Maria Paz, all of Latino origin.