Univision is focusing on the top 20 markets with the largest concentrations of Hispanic listeners, where it can match local radio stations with its TV stations. Most of the Top 10 markets already feature anywhere from four to seven Hispanic stations. "The major cities are pretty well saturated in many cases," says Sean Ross, vice-president of music and programming for Edison Media Research.
Despite the number of stations targeting the same audience in the big markets, analysts believe Hispanic stations still have room to grow, unlike their general-market competitors. Of the 200 biggest companies advertising on English-language radio, less than half currently advertise on Spanish-language radio, Mr. Plasencia notes. In October, Univision announced a new three-year, cross-platform deal with Miller Brewing Co., valued at more than $100 million, representing a first-of-its-kind commitment to Spanish-language advertising by the brewer.
Broadcasters also hope to end the so-called "Hispanic discount," the widely accepted practice of advertisers paying less for a spot on a Spanish-language station than a similar spot on an English-language station. In many cases, advertisers may pay 40 percent less on Spanish-language stations, broadcasters say. "It's ignorance run amok," Mr. Castro says. "It's a vicious cycle that has to be broken."
Mr. Castro says the discount stems from outdated perceptions about buying habits and tastes of the Hispanic community. Ad buyers generally "don't have a lot of life experience with the Hispanic community," Mr. Castro says. "They buy what they like and they're not listening to Spanish-language radio."
If anything, the audience for Hispanic radio is growing so fast that some broadcasters believe the gap between revenue and audience share is actually growing. Closing that gap is seen as one of the industry's primary challenges – and a source of great potential. "Everyone realizes that if we are able to monetize the ratings it's the biggest upside in radio," says Bill Tanner, executive vice-president of programming for Spanish Broadcasting System.
Spanish-radio programming is also in its infancy in developing formats to attract specific demographics. Stations typically have featured "regional music" and Latino classics hoping to attract a broad audience. But now companies are developing a variety of formats, mirroring the array of choices available on English-language stations such as Univision's RadioCadena, a news-talk format beamed to its network of AM stations.
Entravision Communications has broken ground with its "Super Estrella," a Spanish contemporary-hits format that features the music of cross-over stars such as Shakira and Ricky Martin, popular with the key 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Research shows that the "upper end of the demographic will follow the younger end because they want things that are hip," says Jeffery Liberman, president of Entravision Radio.
The new formats continue to blur the line between English-preference and Spanish-preference listeners. According to broadcasters, typical bilingual listeners in their mid-30s are willing to try both English- and Spanish-language stations. Bilingual Hispanics "want to connect to a feeling of home and heritage and that's Spanish radio," Mr. Tanner says.
But habits are changing. "It was long assumed that there was a split between first and second generation and what they will listen to," says Mr. Ross of Edison Media. "We're finding that at least some U.S.-born Hispanics are willing to consider Spanish-language radio." And that is putting Spanish-language stations in direct competition with English-language stations for the same listeners. "It will be up to the creativity of people doing Spanish broadcasting whether they can expand the audience," Mr. Ross says. "The battleground is how well Spanish radio manages to attract listeners and how well English-language does in holding on to them."
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