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'New' Viewers Have Who've Been Here All Along

The following is an edited transcript of a keynote speech delivered by Telemundo senior executive vice president, network strategy Antoinette Zel at Reed Business Information's Hispanic Television Summit in Coral Gables, Fla., last week:

While I'm supposed to talk today on “Programming for the New Hispanic Audience,” I have to be up front and admit that, well, I don't really believe there is a new Hispanic audience to serve. Despite the Census, despite the trendiness, despite the language debates (English, Spanish, bilingual).

Instead, I believe there is the same old existing Hispanic population … to understand: That same population that has been here for many years, in the shadows, with no real voice and poorly understood.

And that my friends, is the opportunity — which is why this is a bright hour indeed.

I have a particular way of viewing the Hispanic experience in the U.S., one which I would like to share with you today.

If you can imagine a number line — a continuum, if you will — beginning with zero and continuing in both directions.

The Hispanic audience continuum, I like to call it.

Whereby the moment a Hispanic family settles in the U.S. (whether last year or three generations ago), they land at zero, and then they begin to move. At different speeds, forward to complete acculturation or backward toward their homeland.

In media terms, you arrive as an immigrant and immediately watch Telemundo and Univision, and honestly, probably Univision more.

And in time, you may, or may not, move forward and watch USA, Bravo, all the way to the BBC.

Or you move backward and watch the imported networks from your country.

There is no doubt that you could segment the U.S. Hispanic experience along that audience continuum, by language. That is, at zero, you are Spanish only, then move along toward Spanish-dominant, bilingual, English dominant, et cetera.

But that would be too simplistic, and it would also minimize the profound complexities of the U.S. Hispanic identity.

Our society today struggles with new definitions of race and culture — being forced to push beyond visible diversity. You know, the old “what are you?” question you still get from time to time:

“How can you be Latino if you're blonde?”

“Are you Latino or are you black?”

“If you're Latino, say something in Spanish.”

It's challenging to have to question your identity. Perhaps we should all wear labels to clarify roles.

While the media industry today tries to swim in the choppy waters of defining which is the best language to reach the Hispanic population, we believe the answer lies beneath those choppy waters. And to find it, we must descend into the quiet waters of identity, culture and relevance.

So while I said that I did not believe the Hispanic audience is new, I do believe the times we are living in are new.

Now, more than ever, there is a unique and mind-blowing opportunity in media for that same Hispanic population to come out singing, with the power to create a new mindset in America that Latinos are not exclusively defined by language, or economic class, or cliched stereotypes. Instead, defined by the richness of their cultural attributes and their ability to move fluidly along that audience continuum any time they want.

No other cultural group can claim that.