NBC premiered its new season of "The Voice" on March 25 and ended up with the top ratings of its time slot--4.7 for 18- to 49-year-olds--totaling 13.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
One of the two new coaches is Shakira, the first foreign-born Latina to sit as a judge on a music reality show on mainstream TV. The distinction is important. Unlike previous "Voice" coach Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez on "American Idol," Shakira is a superstar with an accent who started her career in the Spanish market and who, on "The Voice," speaks and sings in Spanish.
But while it's remarkable that we haven't seen a bona fide Latin music star on mainstream prime-time TV since Desi Arnaz, what's really notable is how NBC is promoting "The Voice" to both the Latin and mainstream markets.
For the past month, Spanish-language network Telemundo--the second in the country after Univision--has been running one-minute spots featuring Shakira speaking in Spanish and promoting "The Voice." The ads bow to ownership issues--Telemundo and bilingual sister station mun2 are part of the NBCUniversal group--but they also stem from a new corporate mandate, established after Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011, that recognizes that Latino viewers are fluid, traversing many stations and two languages, and bring valuable ratings.
"NBCUniversal [which also includes SyFy, Bravo and Oxygen] reaches across all the divisions, and reaches basically 97% of Hispanics in the country, regardless of language," Telemundo Media executive VP of marketing Susan Salana says. "Instead of looking at each other as competition, at some point everybody gives and everybody gets."
In this country, the Latin marketplace has long been synonymous with Spanish, and conventional wisdom dictated that the way to reach more Spanish speakers was through Spanish-language media. But reaching the bilingual, bicultural and English-dominant Hispanic is a different story. According to Nielsen, 11% of viewers ages 18-49 who watched season two of "The Voice" were Hispanic, and 16% of viewers of the 2012 Grammy Awards were Hispanic. That's substantial.
While English-language media has been reticent to airing anything in Spanish, Spanish-language radio has for several years dabbled in bilingual programming and commercials. TV, however, has been far more segregated. But the NBCUniversal/Telemundo philosophy, which seeks shows with crossover appeal, is providing a template for a change in attitude that could have a hugely positive impact on Latin music.
The Billboard Latin Music Awards, for example, have been promoted on NBC and other NBCUniversal channels for the past three years, while "The Voice" has been promoted on Telemundo and mun2 since its first season.
If these spots yield results, the question is: Why isn't the practice more common?
It may be a matter of time. Some companies are already seeing the light, as evidenced by Taco Bell's "Viva Young" Super Bowl commercial, featuring fun.'s "We Are Young" with hilarious Spanish-language lyrics.