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Media Mergers Haven't Boosted Latino Representation, Study Finds

Researchers at Columbia University found that despite promises, media mergers don't result in significant boosts in Latino representation on or off screen.

Posted on January 15, 2016, at 8:04 p.m. ET

NBC / Virginia Sherwood / NBC

Jennifer Lopez plays a dirty New York detective in NBC’s “Shades of Blue.”

Media company mergers rarely result in a significant boost in representation for Latinos on or off screen, despite promises from studio executives to increase diversity, new research has found.

The report — The Latino Disconnect: The Impact of Media Mergers on Latino Consumers and Representation — was provided to BuzzFeed News ahead of publication and analyzed the relationship between media mergers and Latinos from 2008 to 2015.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race found there was no significant increase in diversity behind the camera after the 2011 Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, despite a pledge to increase Latino representation in programming.

"In general, we found that the increase in representation after the merger was very minimal and really only happens in front of the camera, which makes sense because it's the most visible," said Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the study's lead researcher.

Researchers looked at all mergers after 2008, but focused on the one between Comcast-NBCUniversal because it was the largest and well documented.

NBC / Trae Patton

America Ferrera plays as Amy in "Superstore."

After the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger and through 2015, Latinos made up less than 7% of behind-the-camera talent across all categories on the network's top 10 shows, national news programs, and films. It also found that while the percentage of Latino directors increased on average 0.8% after the merger, the percentage of producers and writers decreased by 1.1% and 1.2%. Executive produces also declined by 0.4%.

"The agreements and promises made before the merger weren't really panning out," Negrón-Muntaner said.

The average number of all Latino actors on television increased from 6.6% before the merger to 7.3% afterward. The slight increase, the study states, was accompanied by a significant rise in Latino stereotypes on NBCUniversal. Latinos who appeared as maids, janitors, inmates, and police officers in NBC’s top 10 scripted television shows nearly tripled from 2008 to 2014.

NBC / Jordin Althaus

Eva Longoria (left) stars as Ana Sofia Calderon, a soap opera diva,

and Diana Maria Riva, as Mimi, in "Telenovela."

The number of Latino executives also expanded after the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, however, most of the growth was in positions overseeing regional operations in Spanish-language markets or within Telemundo, which was acquired through the merger.

Before the merger, Comcast and NBCUniversal had no Latino executives, researchers noted. But in 2015, 4 out of 130 senior executives were Latino, accounting for 3.1%. However, only one held a position outside of Telemundo.

"Despite the fact that the majority of Latinos are U.S.-born and English-dominant,” researchers wrote, “the percentage of Latino executives remained extremely low in the company’s non-Spanish language media sector.”

Comcast-NBCUniversal did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The release of the study coincides with Charter Communications reaching an agreement with advocacy groups on Friday promising to diversify the company as it prepares to merge with Time Warner Cable and acquire Bright House Networks. The agreement would go into effect once the merger goes through.

Researchers recommended that media companies develop plans to diversify leadership and creative positions and hire experienced Latinos behind the camera who can help writers avoid stereotypes.