While the official 2013 BBG Global Audience Estimate won’t be in for a few months, current tracking shows a strong audience increase – fueled by growth at VOA’s Latin America Division.
Midyear tracking of the BBG’s global audience shows its broadcasters collectively reaching 203 million people weekly, representing a 16% climb from official 2012 numbers released in November.The official 2013 audience estimate will again come in November. And while there will be increases as well as decreases in certain markets as competitive and political changes take place, overall, 2013 looks to beat last year’s estimate of 175 million.
Increases in several Middle Eastern countries are part of the increase, but the bulk thus far is coming from Latin America, where VOA’s Lat Am Division has undergone exponential growth — adding some 23 million new viewers and listeners after adjusting its strategy.
VOA Lat Am had an audience of approximately 3 million people weekly in July 2009, when a BBG Board delegation, led by then-governor Joaquin Blaya, toured the region and met with dozens of media players to assess the environment.
The board found VOA to be an aging brand without a niche in Latin America’s rapidly growing media space.
But more media in Latin America was not equating with more media freedom. NGO Freedom House ranks virtually all of Latin America as Not Free, or Partly Free on its Press Freedom Index. Only Uruguay gets a passing grade in terms of press freedom.
Other research showed Latin Americans as disposed toward democracy, even if many people felt they have not benefited from it. Some felt ignored by their large neighbor to the north, and many wanted to connect with others across borders.
The seeds of the turnaround story came from the combined feedback.Based on a successful project launched years earlier with Radio Paramericana in La Paz, in which VOA did regular interactive segments with the broadcaster, VOA began floating the idea of acting as a Washington D.C. bureau for newsrooms in the region. Former Director of VOA Latin America Alberto Mascaro and Oscar Barcelo, from the BBG’s Office of Strategy and Development, then methodically re-introduced the service to media companies throughout Central and South America.
There were early adopters for VOA’s new product, which quickly snowballed from a Washington D.C. bureau toward that of a U.S. bureau. The affiliate list, which includes Mexico’s hugely successful TV Azteca, continues to grow, as do the relationships. For example, in some cases, Acting Director of VOA Latin America Clara Dominguez sits in on affiliates’ editorial meetings to ensure that VOA is in sync with the informational needs of Latin American audiences.
The result of the adjustment in strategy has been nothing less than a rebirth of the VOA brand in Latin America, with a current weekly audience of more than 26 million people on television, radio, and new media.
The VOA Latin America Division broadcasts in Spanish to Latin America and Creole to Haiti. Cuba is serviced by Radio and TV Martí. VOA no longer broadcasts to Brazil.