Magazine Feature

How Smartphones Spurred Latin Music's Streaming Explosion

Yankee’s “Shaky Shaky”  was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart for four weeks, with more than 75 percent of its points coming from streaming.
Courtesy Photo

Yankee’s “Shaky Shaky”  was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart for four weeks, with more than 75 percent of its points coming from streaming.

In October 2013, Spotify introduced its first Latin ­playlist, “Baila Reggaetón.” It was an experiment: The service, launched in 2008, wasn’t even available in most Latin countries until the end of 2013.

But within two years, “Baila Reggaetón” had become Spotify’s second-most popular playlist globally, and it has only continued to grow.

“Last year at this time, we had 1.1 million subscribers. Today, we have 3.3 million,” says Rocío Guerrero, Spotify’s global head of Latin content programming. “It was a wake-up call for everyone. Now, Latin is a big priority for the company.”

Once a niche genre, Latin music has become a major force on ­streaming services, growing at an accelerated clip and regularly outperforming other genres. The phenomenon is evident not only on Spotify -- where three of the top seven most-streamed playlists are Latin, according to Guerrero -- but also Pandora, where the service says that in the United States, 25 percent of users identify as Hispanic and 11 percent of the music streamed is Latin. And YouTube reports that in October, nearly 40 percent of the views for its Global Top 100 chart came from Latin America.

“There’s a bit of a revolution happening in Latin America with YouTube,” says Ady Harley, head of music publishing partnerships for YouTube and Google Play in Latin America, adding that in the past year the region has had the biggest growth in views and watch time, and that two of YouTube’s top five most-played playlists are Latin music. Daddy Yankee’s hit “Shaky Shaky” has been in the top 10 of YouTube’s global music chart for 11 ­consecutive weeks. The two main factors behind streaming’s rise in the Latin market is the ­exponential growth of ­smartphone use, and Spotify, Pandora and YouTube ­approaching Latin fans in a more targeted manner.

According to GSMA Intelligence, the ­international association of mobile service providers, Latin America is the world’s second-fastest-growing mobile region, with smartphone adoption ­rising sharply: from less than 10 percent in 2011 to more than 50 ­percent in July 2016. That rise played a huge role in Latin music’s ­sudden prevalence on YouTube and Shazam charts.

Likewise, in the United States, according to Nielsen’s 2015 Total Audience Report, Hispanics are the most avid smartphone users among all demographic groups, spending an average of 27 minutes and 36 ­minutes per week ­streaming video and audio, respectively, on their smartphones -- more than any other demo, and significantly more than the 13- to 17-minute average. For example, Pandora’s Latin music plays have grown by ­approximately 1 ­percentage point per year since 2012, now ­accounting for 11 ­percent of the service’s plays, says Marcos Juárez, head of Latin music programming.

"That 11 percent lit a fire under us to focus on building and ­growing [our Latin service],” Juárez tells Billboard. “Being first to market and being the first to have extensive Latin music went a long way.”

According to Nielsen, which ­collects data from 15 services, streams of Latin music videos in 2016 through the week ending Nov. 3 stood at 21.4 billion, behind only R&B/hip-hop (34.2 billion) and pop (21.8 billion).

“This is not something that only happened this year. We’ve been building for a while now,” says Spotify’s Guerrero, noting that after the launch of “Baila Reggaetón,” “the artists started getting so many streams that they began ­breaking into the global charts. The real game-changer was when we decided to have a Latin editorial voice [curation by a person rather than an algorithm] with ­playlists. When Latin playlists became ­massive, I doubled my team.”And with that growth comes market awareness: On Pandora, for example, the biggest Latin genre is regional Mexican. “There has been an awakening about Latin power in the U.S.,” adds Juárez. “You just can’t ignore it.”