A ‘like’ here, a ‘share’ there: How Miami is becoming a social and digital media hub

An increasing number of major new media players now see Miami not just as a regional outpost but as an important base of operations. That is also translating into more opportunities for high-paying jobs for Miami natives.
An increasing number of major new media players now see Miami not just as a regional outpost but as an important base of operations. That is also translating into more opportunities for high-paying jobs for Miami natives. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The idea of Miami as a media hub is not new. But the idea of Miami as a hub for new media is only now starting to sink in.

Leaning on sturdy foundations set by legacy publishers and broadcasters, an increasing number of the world’s new heavyweights in social media, music and film are embracing Miami as an important command post.

“Our brand is stronger than ever,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who recently announced he was courting music streaming service Spotify to bring its Latin America headquarters to the Magic City.

For Suarez, the same factors that bring any company to Miami remain at play: the weather, the culture, the beauty — and, along with the rest of Florida, the absence of income tax.

But Miami now has some new carrots to dangle.

For one thing, Suarez points out that, because of the federal tax overhaul, the state’s no-tax advantage has become even more valuable because state and local income taxes can no longer be deducted.

And when firms look at Florida, he said, Miami is the first place that should jump out.

“We are a beneficiary of a variety of things that [these companies] are now starting to realize.”

For the approximately 70 media companies with local offices, Miami’s culture and Latin American ties have special appeal. While Hispanics have been America’s fastest-growing demographic for many years, new studies say Spanish speakers — including South Americans — are among the world’s heaviest social media users. Nielsen now finds that Hispanic Americans spend more time on social media than any other media format, with 23 percent of their media time — or 5 hours and 36 minutes a week — on social. That’s a higher percentage than for any other demographic.

Ninety percent of the increase in digital ad revenue is being captured by two companies: Google and Facebook.

Andrew Sherry, vice president for communications at the Knight Foundation

And a new report by the Pew Research Center shows that WhatsApp, the messaging service that is already hugely popular in Latin America, is used by 49 percent of all American Hispanics, compared with 14 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks.

At the same time, big tech companies have become media companies, too. According to Andrew Sherry, vice president / communications for the Knight Foundation, 90 percent of the increase in digital ad revenue is being captured by two companies: Google and Facebook.

Wouldn’t you know it: Facebook’s Miami office — which opened in 2011 — is currently looking for two WhatsApp partner specialists (Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014). In an email, a spokesperson for the social media giant said it had “more than two dozen” employees in its Brickell office. According to LinkedIn, the number may be closer to 50.

Combine the number of new companies leaping into the fast-changing digital media space with the growth in Hispanic social media use, and Miami’s allure becomes ever more apparent.

Twitter, for instance, landed in Miami in 2015; it now operates out of Brickell. A company representative declined to say how many employees are located here, but those based here aren’t necessarily rank-and-file workers. Among them is Twitter’s global head of agency research, Meghann Elrhoul, according to LinkedIn. (Elrhoul did not respond to a request for comment.) The company has a dedicated Miami webpage where it touts its office as a bridge between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean that advises brands including global financial institutions, consumer package goods, tourism, media and entertainment.

Screenshot from Twitter Miami office’s web page.

Miami is “a key city” for the company, Pepe Lopez de Ayala, Twitter regional managing director for Spanish-speaking Latin America, said in an email written in English and Spanish.

“First because of the importance of the Latam region for us, since many of the regional headquarters of global organizations operate from here, also because the large media management companies operate from Miami and finally is an outstanding enclave from the point of view of contents and its production,” he wrote.

The appeal of South Florida’s proximity to Latin America is nothing new, drawing a broad range of regional headquarters from companies including UPS, FedEx, Porsche, Audi and Medtronic. The city’s Hispanic-savvy culture has also turned networks Univision and Telemundo into longtime Miami powerhouses. In more recent decades, Latin America divisions of Fox, HBO, Discovery Networks, Disney Media, MTV and Nickelodeon have also opened here.

And the continued growth of Miami itself has allowed local publications to thrive. The New Tropic’s Miami-made parent company, WhereByUs, has already launched another newsletter in Seattle and plans to announce more cities in the coming months. Glossy Miami-based magazine Cultured recently expanded to Los Angeles. The Miami Times, the city’s largest black-owned newspaper, has grown its digital footprint with a relaunch of its website and a new app.

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Miami Herald publisher and president Alexandra Villoch speaks about the changes affecting the Media Industry during an event at the Beacon Council on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Roberto Koltun

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald’s reach has grown far beyond its print readership. In February, the Herald reached more than 30 million page views per month from readers local and global, President and Publisher Alex Villoch said during a recent local panel discussion. “The mission is impact,” Herald Vice President and Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said at the same event, arranged by the Miami Herald.

Now, it is Silicon Valley’s turn.

Suarez’s Spotify courtship began when the company held a corporate retreat in Miami several weeks ago at which the mayor spoke. Discussions are in a preliminary stage, Suarez said, but he is convinced Spotify will decide Miami is a good fit for its brand. A Spotify representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spotify already has employees located in Miami, according to LinkedIn, which shows 16 workers listing Miami/Fort Lauderdale as their current location and the streaming service as their current company. The company recently announced it brought in about $5 billion in revenue last year from 159 million active users, and has begun the process of filing for an IPO.

These developments are helping Miami fulfill its promise as a tech hub — just as Miami’s tech growth is drawing new media, says Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council.

“Tech is Miami’s next big opportunity,” he said. “I don’t want to describe Miami as ‘the next big’ anything, but our growth curve in the tech space has been pretty impressive.”

Even Miami’s stalwart rival Hispanic networks, Univision and Telemundo, are now investing millions in Silicon Valley-type ventures to stay competitive. Telemundo’s Miami-bred leader, Cesar Conde, has kept the network focused on its traditional Spanish language audience while transforming its programming to appeal to a new generation of viewers.

We’re asking ourselves what does it mean to be second- or third-generation Hispanic.

Jessica Rodriguez, president and chief operations officer of Univision Communications, Inc. Networks

The results earned them top ratings in weekday prime time among adults ages 18-49. In January, NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises announced the creation of Telemundo Global Studios, which is focused on creating new shows. Telemundo expects to open its new $250 million Miami headquarters in April. It was also consistently one of the top five TV networks in 2017, regardless of language, for engagement on Facebook, according to metrics site Shareablee.

“We are all dealing with a more fragmented market, “ Luis Silberwasser, president of Telemundo Network, said at a recent panel discussion. “So we have to become better at what we do best.”

Meanwhile, Doral-based Univision now claims an audience of more than 100 million across all of its platforms. It has gobbled up digital brands including The Onion; tech site and other websites formerly owned by Gawker Media for its Fusion Media Group, which publishes primarily in English. It recently signed a deal with Netflix to produce at least five more series in English and Spanish following the success of last year’s “El Chapo.”

“We’re asking ourselves, what does it mean to be a second- or third-generation Hispanic?” said Jessica Rodriguez, Univison’s new president and chief operating officer of Univision Communications.

Cisneros Group, another Spanish-language heavyweight headquartered in Miami, is now working closely with Facebook’s Miami office to serve as a LatAm partner, according to Jonathan Blum, president of Cisneros Media. Depending on production schedules, Cisneros can have as many as 300 workers in Miami, he said.

“For us, Miami has the right combination of people, talent, producers and directors that represent all nationalities present in the Hispanic market,” Blum said.

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