(This article originally appeared as Chapter 10 in the book Latin American Media: A Pan-Regional Perspective, by Roland Soong, P. Donato and P. Verdin. Since this subject arises frequently, we decided to publish it for a wider audience.)
The answer to the question in the title has profound implications for regional marketing, since marketers need efficient and effective means for reaching their target customers.
Previously, there have not been any pan-regional research data to form the basis of a fact-based answer to that question. In the absence of facts, it is easy to appeal to emotions and prejudices. Here are some pat answers:
Argentines and Brazilians like to watch soccer, whereas Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans like to watch baseball. It is impossible to provide sports programs that will appeal to the entire region.
Argentines like their 'rock nacional', Brazilians like samba, Colombians like cumbia, Dominicans like merengue and Venezuelans like salsa. It is impossible to provide music programs that will appeal to the entire region.
Argentines, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans speak Spanish in local accents with plenty of slang mixed in. It is impossible to sound authentic across the entire region.
People like to read about gossip and scandals about familiar celebrities. They would not care about the peccadilloes of politicians or singers that they have never heard about. It is impossible to provide stories of universal interest.
Overall, people are interested in news from the perspectives of their own countries. People are not interested in international news that do not affect themselves.
But such arguments can be self-similar in nature; that is to say, if it applied to regional media, it can also be applied to national media. Here are the exact same arguments applied to national media.
People in Rio de Janeiro have no interest in watching soccer teams from São Paulo play each other. People in the Andean region of Venezuela, such as the cities of Mérida and San Cristóbal, adore soccer, while the people in other Venezuelan cities such as Caracas and Valencia worship baseball. It is impossible to provide sports programs that will appeal to the entire nation.
In Mexico, people in western Mexico like mariachi, people in the north like norteño (Tex/Mex) music and people in eastern Mexico like huapango. In Colombia, people on the Atlantic coast like cumbia and vallenato, people in Los Llanos like llanera, and people from El Choco like Afro-Colombian music. It is impossible to provide music programs that will appeal to the entire nation.
Inhabitants of the regions of Antioquia, El Choco and La Costa in Colombia speak in heavy local accents with plenty of patois mixed in. Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) pride themselves with their idiosyncratic speech mannerisms. It is impossible to sound authentic across the entire nation.
People like to read about gossips and scandals about familiar celebrities. Older people do not care about who is the latest girlfriend of a teenage rock idol. The reader in Monterrey does not care what the deputy assistant mayor of Puebla was doing with someone who is not his wife. It is impossible to find stories that interest the entire nation.
Overall, people are interested in news about their own cities. People in São Paulo are not interested in local election results from Recife, or construction projects in Manaus, or music festivals in Salvador. People are not interested in news that do not affect their own personal lives.
If these arguments are valid, then there would not be any national media. Yet, national media are obviously flourishing everywhere in Latin America today. There are some compelling reasons for the successes of the national media:
Like it or not, the interests of the people are collectively tied together through their nation. National events such as elections, legislation, foreign affairs, land reforms, trade pacts, bank interest rates, crop yields and natural disasters all have repercussions for the individual citizens. National media can cover national events and address national issues more efficiently and effectively.
There are strong economic reasons for the
media, the advertisers and the people to embrace national media.
In most countries, national media are operated by profit-drive, cost-conscious corporations. There is a tremendous economy of scale in production and distribution at the national level.
For the advertisers, there is a tremendous economy of scale to product, market and distribute their products at the national level.
For the consumers, the national media are often more entertaining and informative, because the substantially larger production budgets and resources. In the case of Brazil, the budget for an episode of a telenovela can exceed US$100,000 per day, and the production values are evident.
The nations of Latin America were created over time by a series of political decisions, sometimes without apparent logic and often without regard of the wishes of the inhabitants. At the moment of national creation, a sense of national identity may not be present. It was the key role of the communications media to forge the people into a nation. As Martin-Barbero noted, it as above all 'the development of national broadcasting systems which provided the people of different regions and provinces with a first daily experience of the nation.' This is best exemplified by Brazilian telenovelas, which usually feature Brazilian themes, culture, characters, historical events and topography. For many people who do not travel often, print and broadcast media are the principal sources of information about their nation.
The same circumstances exist for regional media today, or will be in the near future.
By embracing open-trade economics, the interests of the peoples in the regions are collectively tied together. International events such as trade agreements, warfare, natural disasters, changes in interest rates, economic statistics, fashion and consumer trends all have repercussions for the individual citizens, corporations and governments. We have seen that the Mexican peso crisis of 1995 led to capital flight from Latin America as a whole, and contributed to a recession in Argentina and other countries as well.
There are strong economic reasons for the
media, the advertisers and the people to embrace regional media.
Most regional media companies are operated by profit-driven, cost-conscious corporations. There is a tremendous economy of scale in production and distribution at the regional level. Many regional media companies already operate at the national level, or in other regions of the world. The bulk of the costs of production may have been incurred already, and only re-packaging for local tastes is required.
For the advertisers, there is a tremendous economy of scale to produce, market and distribute at the regional level. After all, this is the main purpose of trade liberalization.
For the people, the regional media are often more entertaining and informative, because of the much larger production budgets and resources.
At this moment, a sense of regional identity may not have an overwhelming presence in Latin America. Yet, as is the case with national identity, this is a dialectical relationship that is not static and immutable. The regional media will have a key role in forging a pan-American identity.
The preceding arguments are summarized in this quotation: "In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature." The reader may be surprised to learn that these words were written by Karl Marx and Friedrichs Engels in 1848 in the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
¿Viaja bien el contenido? By Josef Kotzrincker (May 5, 2000, Baquía.com)
(Comment: This is an example of circular references, whereby this article can refer to an article that refers to it)
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