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As much as it is difficult to make any kind of broad statement about the ethnic media business, that is probably doubly true for its online components. There’s little information available on traffic or investment, and the great appeal for ethnic groups where the Web is concerned — the fact that users in one country can get information from sites based in others that may be thousands of miles away — makes tracking things even more difficult.

For many groups, particularly those from more distant places, the Web presents a way to connect with even more news and events back home. Consider that three of the top 10 Web sites in the world are Chinese, according to the Web traffic-measuring service Alexa. How many of the visitors to those sites (Baidu.com, Qq.com and Sina.com) are based in the U.S.? No one can say for sure.

The one exception in this area is Hispanic media, for which there are some audience data.

Hispanics are a diverse group hailing from many nations. The term also describes a U.S. population that spans those who have been here for generations, those who are recent immigrants, and those here only temporarily. Some speak English fluently, others hardly at all.

The diversity of the population is clearly reflected in the way Hispanics use the Web. There are big differences between “Hispanics” as a whole and “Spanish-dominant” Hispanics (those who primarily rely on Spanish). For instance, the list of the top 10 Web sites visited by U.S. Hispanics looks a lot like the top 10 Web properties for the U.S as a whole, according to comScore.

Top 10 Web Properties for the U.S. Hispanic Audience

1 Yahoo Sites
2 Time Warner Network
3 Microsoft Sites
4 Google Sites
5 Fox Interactive Media
6 eBay
7 Ask Network
8 Amazon Sites
9 Apple Computer
10 Wal-Mart

Source: comScore

Top 10 Web Properties for the U.S. Population as a Whole

1 Yahoo Sites
2 Time Warner Network
3 Microsoft Sites
4 Google Sites
5 eBay
6 Fox Interactive Media
7 Amazon Sites
8 Ask Network
9 Wal-Mart
10 Viacom Digital

Source: comScore

The biggest difference in those two charts is the appearance of Apple Computer on the Hispanic list (presumably because of iTunes) and the appearance of Viacom on the more general U.S. population list. But on the whole they match up fairly closely. Now compare those top Hispanic Web properties with the top sites for Spanish-language dominant Hispanics in the U.S. as identified by a 2006 survey by the research firm Experion Simmons.

Top 10 Spanish-language Web Sites
Sites visited in the ‘last 30 days’ by users

1 Univision.com
2 Telemundo.com
3 Terra.com
4 Espanol.Yahoo.com
5 Lamusica.com
6 Latino.AOL.com
7 Esmas.com
8 CNNEspanol.com
9 HispanicVista.com
10 Migente.com

Source: Experion Simmons

While Yahoo is tops in the comScore ratings for U.S. Hispanics overall and for the U.S. as a whole, for Spanish-language users Espanol.Yahoo.com is fourth. The top three slots are occupied by Univision and Telemundo (the two big Spanish-language TV networks) and Terra.com, a Spanish-language portal. And while AOL is not a top 10 site with Hispanic Web users in general, Latino.AOL.com is No. 6 on the Spanish-language list. For the most part, the Spanish-language versions of U.S. brands do not fare as well as others designed exclusively for this audience.

The Spanish-language user list is also particularly diverse. Not all the top 10 sites, for instance, are delivered in Spanish. HispanicVista.com, No. 9, is a site that features commentary from and about Hispanics, but is written in English. Migente, No. 10, is a Spanish-language social networking site. And CNNEspanol.com, which appears on the Spanish-language list at No. 8, is the only pure news site on either list.

What Web sites do Hispanics turn to specifically for news? For the Spanish-language users, it is hard to know. The Experion Simmons survey of Spanish-language Internet users did not ask specifically about news. CNNEspanol is the highest pure news site on the list, but others like Univision and Telemundo offer news along with other content, and we don’t know which of these pages users visit.

For the broader group of Hispanics, ComScore does gather data specifically on news sites. Again the numbers look a lot like the figures for the U.S. population as whole. The list actually contains the same sites with some slight re-ordering.

Top General News Sites For the U.S. Hispanic Population, Decemeber 2006

1 Yahoo News
2 AOL News
3 MSNBC
4 CNN
5 Tribune Newspapers
6 New York Times Brand
7 McClatchy Corporation
8 ABC News Digital
9 CBS News Digital
10 USA Today Sites

Source: comScore

Top General News Sites For the U.S. Population as a Whole, Decemeber 2006

1 Yahoo News
2 MSNBC
3 AOL News
4 CNN
5 Tribune Newspapers
6 New York Times Brand
7 ABC News Digital
8 USA Today Sites
9 CBS News Digital
10 McClatchy Corporation

Source: comScore

Yahoo sits atop both lists. The sites of the newspapers in the nation’s biggest Spanish-language print media conglomerate ImpreMedia — which includes La Opinion in Los Angeles and ElDiario in New York — rank far down the comScore list at 23.

The finding that Hispanics—many of whom have been in the country for longer than the smaller group of Spanish-language users — tend to gravitate to English-language media supports much of what we found about the audience for print and television. It also may raise longer-term questions about the strength of the Spanish-language media as the next generation of Hispanics, an extremely sizable one, comes of age and moves out on its own — in some cases away from Spanish-language-dominant homes. And that trend will be going on, according to demographers, as the number of foreign-born Hispanics, those most likely to speak the language, is declining.

Is the biggest difference between Spanish- and English-language sites the language? Or are there other inherent differences in the design and features that might influence a user’s choice? PEJ looked at 38 English-language sites for this 2007 report and inventoried their features and content and then later added two of the biggest Spanish-language TV sites, Univision, and one of the best-known newspaper sites, La Opinion, to get a feel for their offerings.

La Opinion

The Web site of the largest U.S.-based newspaper was honored in October 2006 as the top site for a Spanish-language publication, according to a Salvadoran firm — the first time a U.S. publication won the award. What earned the site that designation?

From our inventory, laopinion.com places most emphasis on the content. There is a lot of information here, including the latest wire stories from U.S. and foreign wire services, copy from the day’s paper, and special photo galleries.

The site also has a different orientation than many English-language news sites. U.S. news is still covered here, but it is through a different prism than mainstream English-language news sites. For instance, on the afternoon of January 24th, the day after the president’s State of the Union speech as the Congress was debating Iraq policy, the site led with an AP wire piece on the stalling of the minimum-wage bill in the Senate. The bill, which failed that day to get the 60 votes needed for cloture, was news on English-language sites as well, but well down the page, after stories about the Iraq debate and the president. The lead story under laopinion.com’s “Primera Pagina” (Front Page) header from that day’s paper was about Bush’s speech, but focused tightly on the president’s immigration proposals. “Irak” (Iraq) didn’t appear until the end of the story’s fourth paragraph.

There are also links on the page to the other newspapers in the ImpreMedia group, the U.S. publisher that owns Spanish-language papers around the country. Those sites suggest that though the papers have one owner, each has its own design.

Laopinion.com is not all that high-tech. The link to its RSS feed is far down the page, and the site didn’t offer any podcasts or a homepage that users could rearrange as they saw fit. Its use of multimedia was a little more advanced, with several video and photo viewing options. It’s worth noting, however, that the video here is not from La Opinion but from the AP, and in English.

An aspect of the page that stood out was its advertisements — there were only two, but they were big and prominently placed. A large ad sat next to the page’s lead story and equaled it in size. Another ad ran in a long column just under the top ad.

Laopinion.com offers readers the Spanish-language equivalent of what most English-language newspaper sites offer, but with a different focus for a different audience.

Univision

Univision.com is, according to survey data, the most popular Spanish-language Web site by far. While there are no figures on how many users go to its news pages, some significant level of traffic seems fair to assume.

What do those visitors find there? A national Spanish-language news site that focuses on issues affecting Hispanics around the country and the world.

On its news page users get a mix of news broken down by region (even by city) and resources that are aimed squarely at Spanish-speakers. Like the site for La Opinion, Univision.com is squeezed into the center 2/3 of the screen. It follows a three-column format that has navigation on the left of the page, a lead story in the center with other stories under it, and a right column with things like photo slide shows and videos.

And beginning with the heavier use of videos — 20 of them on the home page, all in Spanish — several differences from La Opinoin’s site stand out. In addition to the slides and video, the site offers a news blog high on the page.

Customization is a low priority here, with an RSS link at the bottom of the page and no podcast options. And the site is also more commercial than La Opinion’s, with several prominent ads on the page, including one in the right column that is bigger than the page’s lead item.

The content on the site is also broader than that on the Los Angeles-based Hispanic newspaper site. Local U.S. news is available through a menu that lets users jump to the local Univision news page of any one of 18 U.S. cities. And under that, but still high on the page, there is a list of “Recursos” (Resources) for users that include information on and links to U.S. government sites and to a page with several different kinds of calculators to help with finances and forms for immigration.

Immigration also has its own news topic header, the top header, indeed, under Noticias at the top of the page, followed by U.S., Mexico, Latin America, World and Weather.

There is also Latin American news that would likely be hard to find featured on English-language news sites. On the morning of January 25, the lead item on the Noticias page was a wire story questioning the validity of Fidel Castro’s signature on a letter the Cuban leader had reportedly written to at President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The story did not even appear on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post sites. And while most of the stories from the U.S. section are from Univison’s online staff, or a combination of staff and wire, the stories from other regions tend to be wire copy.

Univision.com’s news site is a hybrid, part breaking news page, part multimedia center and part user help center. In that sense, the differences between it and those of most English-language sites extend well beyond language.