Discovery’s Ratings Wrangler

In the marketing race to reach Hispanic viewers, Ivan Bargueiras helps separate Discovery Networks from the pack

By now, we know the statistics: A quarter of the babies born in the United States are Hispanic, and that growing demographic now accounts for more than 16 percent of the total population. Soon enough, a third the country will be Hispanic. Businesses that recognize this trend and connect with Latinos in a meaningful way stand to reap the rewards.

Ivan Bargueiras noticed the demographic shift in the early 1990s when he was an advertising manager for both The Weather and Travel Channels. When Discovery Communications acquired Travel Channel in 1997, the company hired Bargueiras to help reach the increasingly important Latin American and US Hispanic audiences.

Bargueiras, CableFAX’s 2012 Sales Executive of the Year, got his start in entertainment sales more than 20 years ago. He was working in the general sales force when he saw the Hispanic population start to boom. “I felt like the growing demographic would provide a new path forward if we could connect in a sincere and meaningful way,” he recalls. Discovery was an early adopter and became a natural fit for Bargueiras.  Already a viewer of Discovery content, he felt fortunate to have the opportunity to bring his passion for the Hispanic audience to a company already looking to reach that population.

Bargueiras insists that connecting with Latinos means much more than simply airing Spanish-language programming—it’s about content and culture. In the United States, the Discovery Channel has viewers in 100 million households while Discovery Communication’s second-rated station, TLC, has around 99 million viewers. By comparison, Discovery en Español reaches five million and Discovery Familia four million. But here’s why the US Hispanic group’s work is so critical to Discovery’s long-term vision: by about 2050, Hispanic women will account for roughly 30 percent of the total US female population. The Caucasian female population is projected to decrease by more than 40 percent over the same time.

This is good news for an advertising team that is already making tremendous strides in the Latin American and US Hispanic markets. Discovery Familia is outperforming the industry and even its own company. Today, the channel is the top Hispanic pay-TV station in two different age groups: Hispanic moms and their preschool children. Discovery en Español is also growing in strength and ranks second for all major prime-time demographics for the first time ever. In fact, the channel spiked 18 percent from 2011 to 2012 with record-breaking performances every quarter of the year, which Bargueiras attributes to strong creative, production, executive, and advertising groups. These groups have all collaborated on hits like Sirenas and Crimenes Millonarios.

To pull in these growing demographics, Bargueiras relies on his talented content team to target Spanish-dominant, first-generation Hispanics. “We operate a vast amount of high-quality content, so we’ve really been able to reach out to every part of our target audience,” Bargueiras explains. Bargueiras and his colleagues in advertising and sales pull from the best of Discovery’s content worldwide, including shows from Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the United States, in addition to original productions targeting Hispanics. The key to this work is connecting in meaningful ways with relevant content. “Our production team is not just translating content into Spanish and putting it on TV,” Bargueiras says. “We revive whole programs with graphics and voices in a culturally aware way and we create original productions that are in line with audience appetites.” In 2013, Discovery en Español’s documentary 5 de Mayo, un Día de Gloria was nominated for an International Emmy award.

Bargueiras often relies on focus groups and in-house visits to dictate his marketing strategy. “We’re making it about emotion, connectivity, and brand association,” he says. “The Hispanic audience is coming to us and staying with us, and the ratings are proof that advertisers and affiliates have embraced what we’re doing.” The company looks at growth percentage compared to the industry and its percentage on both revenue and audience sides. Discovery also considers Nielsen and Siemens data. By any measure, the numbers for Discovery en Español and Discovery Familia are very healthy—they’re increasing revenue by more than 20 percent each and every year.

Though Discovery is enjoying success, Bargueiras knows competition is fierce; his team will have to keep pushing innovation forward. “It’s my job over the next 3-5 years to make sure what we are doing is sustainable because it’s such an important asset to the company, and we are the gatekeepers,” he says. Upcoming shows include Texas Chrome, one that Discovery has green-lit for production. It centers around two brothers and a family who tour big-rigs. Initial research returned high levels of interest around key Hispanic demographics and advertisers. Furthermore, because this is a World Cup year, Discovery plans to release documentaries about the science of soccer and other relevant sports content.

Bargueiras doesn’t take for granted that he is still working with an emerging market. There is much that is unknown. He feels confident, though that he can rely on his international colleagues to help predict domestic tendencies. In 2004, Discovery created a solutions team and Bargueiras hired a creative group sourced from ad agencies to help fill a void in the marketplace. Bargueiras’s team was the first in the industry to take this step—one that he says has paid for itself “many times over.” He has launched a solutions group on the Hispanic side, too. The group interacts with clients to create content that can reach Hispanics in new ways. By doing this, Bargueiras is creating a strategic relationship instead of making a one-off transaction. The move, along with other strategies, will ensure that Discovery is growing along with the Hispanic population well into the future.