Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Television for U.S. Latinos (Part 2– Trying To Reach Your Audience)

By A.B. Lugo.

In the first part of this two-part series, we examined the current state of television marketed to U.S. Latinos (specifically the English-speaking and/or -dominant Latinos, including the younger generations known as "millennials") in the wake of the termination of both NBC Latino and CNN Latino, respectively. In the second part of this two-part series blog, we present suggestions for the networks currently marketed to U.S. Latinos, mun2, nuvoTV, Fusion and El Rey.

So now there are a few networks that are making an effort to reach out to U.S. Latinos. What now? (Note that some of these suggestions are already being utilized by the some of the above networks.)

Give the network a chance–  Both the online NBC Latino and the on-air CNN Latino were cancelled after little more than a year of existence. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was allowed to weather a bumpy start until it found its voice and its footing. Investing in a network means allowing it to survive the "growing pains" any new venture experiences.

Attach a big name to your network (one that attracts Latinos and non-Latinos alike)– Attaching the names of Jennifer López and Robert Rodríguez to nuvoTV and El Rey networks, respectively, have helped raised the profile of each. Adding Tyler Perry to OWN's programming helped attract a large number of viewers to its network. Imagine work produced by Salma Hayek, Zoë Saldaña and Edward James Olmos (each of whom have production companies) on the air. Those names would attract people from all walks of life to a network (including Latino millennials). The latter two names alone would appeal to sci-fi fans (who make quite loyal fans).

Don't be afraid of using both languages (English and Spanish) or switching back and forth– U.S. Latinos tend to speak English. Sometimes they also speak Spanish almost as or just as equally (sometimes they don't speak Spanish at all). Oftentimes, they speak the lovely combination of the two... Spanglish. Don't worry about making your network all-English; if some Spanish words or phrases slip out, it's not the end of the world. Spanish-language television (specifically the morning shows) have recently invited English-speaking guests on their show and done live translation. It doesn't necessarily turn off your audience if done correctly.

Make a point of reaching out to all Latino cultures– The main complaint of networks and agencies trying to market to Latinos is that there is no one type of Latino. Latinos/Hispanics come in an array of hair colors, eye colors and skin colors. We can look like pretty much anybody. Add to that different national origins plus other factors (the African, Middle Eastern and East Asian influences present in certain Latino populations) can make trying to pin down "what a Latino is" difficult. So don't pin it down. Try to appeal to numerous Latino cultures, but do it in an organic way and not in a way so as to fulfill a quota. On the one hand, if all your Latino on-camera talent have blond hair, blue or green eyes and look vaguely European, we will notice. On the other hand, if your on-camera talent seems to have a European-looking Latino, an Afro-Latina, an Asian Latino and an American indigenous Latina and it looks or feels disingenuous, we will notice that too. (Go for the best person for the job, but remember to acknowledge the variety of Latinos/Hispanics when doing a talent search.)

Vary your programming– I get the appeal of reality television. It is cheap to produce, often includes celebrities and very often brings in high ratings (cf. "Braxton Family Values", "I Love Jenni"). And as much as it would tickle me to watch a "Real Housewives of San Juan[, Puerto Rico]" or an "Estefan Family Values", don't rely on reality-heavy programming. It's the viewing equivalent of eating only junk food. Try a more balanced diet of scripted, sports, music and documentary programming. That way, a network can offer something for everyone. If a network wants to air theatrically-released films that have been of interest to Latinos (e.g. Mama, any of the Fast and the Furious series, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), try perhaps once a month (or preferably  more often), including independent films created by and/or about Latinos (e.g. Gun Hill Road, Instructions Not Included, A Miracle in Spanish Harlem, among others). It is important to support Latino filmmakers and to let them know there is another outlet for their work to be displayed.

Develop a strong social media presence– Fusion is posting nearly all of its content online on its website. It is also planning to have a mobile app for smartphones and tablets in 2014. With the recent success of Netflix's series "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards", it is another way to reach an audience especially in regions in which the network is not yet available on local cable carriers. In addition, social media is a fantastic to gauge viewer feedback and to connect and communicate with your audience. In addition, a network's online presence could be used as an alternative platform (see below).

Look to webseries/online content as development of potential future on-air content– With the rise and success of webseries such as "Justice Woman", "Reasons Y I'm Single", "Pushing Dreams", "Becoming Ricardo", "East WillyB" and Hulu's own "East Los High", there is a whole new frontier (a "Wild West" of the entertainment landscape, if you will) of content being created. With the Fox network now planning to eschew pilot season altogether, it makes even more sense to look to the internet for fresh ideas and talent.  

Use Latinos/Hispanics behind the scenes as well– Don't just limit your Latino talent to the on-air variety. There are many extremely talented writers, directors, editors cinematographers, camera operators, etc., who just happen to be Latino/Hispanic. Getting these people behind the scenes can help create varied, more accurate, not stereotypical, more interesting characters and stories to show to the general public (Latinos as well as non-Latinos) and that would be beneficial to this country as a whole.

Note that shows need not have "all Hispanic" casts in order to be watched by Latinos– Latinos/Hispanics see many different types of things and not just necessarily "all-Latino" projects (perhaps because there hasn't been too many of them on a great scale). As much as Latinos loved "Ugly Betty" (Latino family/workplace comedy-drama, mixed cast), Latinos also love the Fast and the Furious film franchise (prominent Latino characters in an ensemble cast). Latinos are aware that the U.S. is a multicultural nation/society. However, we are a growing population (one in about six Americans has Latino heritage, according to the 2010 U.S. Census) and we want this growth to be visible on television and other media. The flagship series of El Rey network, "From Dusk To Dawn: The Series", for example, has a mixed cast (including Latinos) and is created by popular filmmaker Robert Rodríguez.

Create a marketing campaign with some meat on it– When it comes to marketing your network, invest in the network and its future. Marketing (on all levels) is vital. The more the network is on the tongue of the average viewer the better it is for the network. This seems obvious, but I wonder how many people knew of NBC Latino and CNN Latino during the roughly 15 months each were in existence?

But beyond what a network has to do in order to reach its target audience, there is work that a target audience needs to do. Viewers need to be active, educated consumers. If a network is not available in your region, contact your cable carrier and ask it why it is not available. Check out a network's website to see if you can watch content there. Once you can see the network in your area, check out the offerings. Hit up social media (Facebook, Twitter) and comment on the show. 

A successful network (whether marketed to Latinos or otherwise) depends on the symbiotic relationship between the content creators and the content consumers. We are becoming the future of this country. It is time we take our place at the table. So if you like a network's offerings, support it. Support Latino Work.

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