By: Madeline Di Nonno
As media consumption continues to skyrocket among parents and children alike, we’d be remiss to ignore the change in population demographics and its impact on television.
Let’s start with the growth of the US Hispanic population. As of the 2020 US Census, more than one in four children under the age of 18 was of Hispanic descent.
Yet when it comes to popular content and children’s programming, the Hispanic community continues to be highly under-represented. (One recent study by Common Sense Media found that Hispanic characters make up just 5% of speaking roles across all film and television.)
As consumption rates grow, what does this large, yet ignored population want to watch?
You’ll have to ask their parents. Edye—the fastest-growing Spanish-language SVOD for preschoolers in the US and LatAm—and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently conducted a survey with Hispanic parents and caregivers of kids ages two to eight, who come from Spanish-dominant/fluent homes in the US, Mexico and Colombia, and who watch Spanish-language TV regularly.
It’s important to consider the parental viewpoint here: More than 50% of respondents said their kids always or mostly watched TV with a parent or guardian in the room. Just 3% said they let their children to watch TV by themselves. There are some interesting regional differences: 4% of US parents let their young ones watch without them, whereas just 2% of Mexican parents and 1% of Colombian parents permit unsupervised viewing.
Age-appropriateness is the top driver with parents when it comes to choosing content for their kids, with 61% saying they decide with no input from their children. This was a bigger factor in Mexico and Colombia, where age-appropriate content was a top reason for picking a service provider or channel offering, compared to the US, where it ranked third. Hispanic parents also opted for content that helps develop social and emotional skills such as trustworthiness (81%), is educational (80%), models kindness and friendship (75%), and encourages kids to use their imagination (66%).
When it comes to how Hispanic kids are watching and where, nine out of 10 parents who own a tablet allow their children use it, compared to 64% of those with a smartphone. Nearly a quarter of respondents let their kids watch up to 30 hours of TV per week, while 11% watch 30 or more hours.
Netflix came out on top for platform use, with 86% of US parents, 87% of Mexican parents and 81% of Colombian parents subscribed to the SVOD. Disney+ followed close behind (78% US, 72% Mexico, 64% Colombia), with YouTube/YouTube Premium in third (63% US, 62% Mexico, 68% Colombia). And while only 44% of Hispanic parents in the US have cable, 64% of Colombian parents and 58% of Mexican parents do.
In many ways, parents across the US, Colombia and Mexico are similar. We found that 80% agree it’s important for their kids to see people of different backgrounds as lead characters (81% US, 83% Mexico, 78% Colombia), and that 74% want to see programs that celebrate diversity (76% US, 74% Mexico, 70% Colombia). Additionally, 74% feel it’s important that all genders and ethnicities are represented in the programming their children watch (73% US, 75% Mexico, 73% Colombia).
There were some small regional differences, however. On average, 58% said they want to watch content that celebrates the richness of their family’s race, heritage and values, yet only 49% of US parents identified this as an important factor in their programming choices, compared to 63% in Mexico and 68% in Colombia. Parents prefer gender-neutral (67%) over gender-specific (50%) content, driven largely by Mexican and Colombian parents. By comparison, Hispanic parents in the US opt for gender-specific (52%) over gender- neutral (40%) programming.
Beyond self-representation, 81% of parents feel it’s important for their kids to see people of different ethnic backgrounds as lead characters, and 73% say it’s important that all genders and ethnicities are represented. More than half (52%) want content that normalizes disabilities, and 35% would like to see shows that reflect different sexual orientations. When it comes to representation, there’s clearly a demand among Hispanic parents.
This research is significant, not only for the insights into how Hispanic parents in the US and Latin America see diversity and inclusion in children’s content, but also because it provides a roadmap for understanding the current views on diversity and inclusion for what will be the majority of the US population in just a few years.
As content creators, we need to remain relevant to the growing Hispanic population, and also be vigilant in how we represent the diversity within this community in children’s content. Hispanic identities aren’t the same, yet they are often represented as one group. How we engage and inspire young Hispanic viewers as they grow into adults will influence how they shape the future of our society and world.
Edye’s director of programming, Erika Vogt, and The Geena Davis Institute surveyed 600 parents of children ages two to eight across the US, Mexico and Colombia in December 2021.
MADELINE DI NONNO is president and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Follow the GDI at @geenadavisorg and Edye at @edyetv on social media. This article originally appeared in Kidscreen’s February/March 2022 issue.