Fifteen years ago there were eight titles covering all ethnic groups in the UK. Now there are more than 200 titles, 60 channels and 12 radio stations reaching audiences, which it is estimated will represent about 6.4 per cent of the UK population according to the new census. Clearly there's an audience out there, but which advertisers are taking advantage and via which media?
Most ethnic media are dependent on advertising from their own communities.
Convincing mainstream advertisers is trickier. But with the ethnic community in the UK on the increase, the media owners are asking why their resource isn't being exploited to the full.
Saad Saraf, the managing director of the specialist communications agency Media Reach, points out that using the mainstream media to reach ethnic communities means high wastage. A large part of the ethnic audience choose media in their own language. And there are some campaigns that are obviously in need of the ethnic media.
"If you're a marketing director looking at London or any metropolis and you spend 100 per cent of your budget reaching 60 per cent of the population, you need your head examined," Saraf adds.
There is a minority of mainstream advertisers that already appreciate the usefulness of the ethnic media.
Saraf has placed ads for BT over the past five years, as well as Alliance & Leicester, BUPA and The Navy.
Western Union targets specific ethnic communities in the UK using various media, including posters, Ethnic Media Group titles, such as New Nation and Caribbean Times, and stations such as Sunrise Radio and Zee TV. The company regularly conducts focus groups to make sure that it gets a deeper understanding of each group.
"Ethnic markets have a huge spending power, particularly in the African, Caribbean and Asian markets," Western Union's marketing executive, Bienose Ebite, says. "By not tapping into the ethnic markets, companies are missing out on great opportunities."
Choice FM is one channel that benefits from mainstream advertisers. Its style of "urban radio", with news from Africa, the Caribbean and African America, reaches almost 300,000 listeners a week in the London area.
According to its sales director, Neil Kenlock, the station takes ads from Coca-Cola, COI Communications, the Metropolitan Police, Shell and Warner Records. But he can't believe there isn't more general consumer stuff out there.
"My audience has spending power, particularly the youth. They go out and spend, they have mortgages, so there's no reason why they are different from other audiences in the UK. Maybe media buyers take the easy way out - they'd rather go to the bigger guy and get half a million listeners. My audience is listening elsewhere, but they are not as concentrated as they are on Choice."
One ethnic community which is perhaps more difficult to ignore is the two million Asians in the UK. Zierler Media represents many of the largest stations targeting these communities, including the Bollywood movie channel B4U Movies and Sony Entertainment Asia, which features sport, sitcoms and movies. Zierler Media has also announced a new contract with the digital TV channel Phoenix Chinese News and Entertainment. Phoenix CNE is a joint venture with Star TV, the Asian arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Star TV is also making its own moves to target the UK's Asia population.
It launched two of its channels - Star Plus and Star News - in the UK in January 2000. The channels carry 60 per cent of their ads from mainstream advertisers, according to Lisa Srao, the vice-president of business operations for Star UK. They include Kellogg, BT and COI.
Srao is an outspoken critic of what she sees as a blinkered attitude to ethnic media by many advertisers. "The key issue is that the mainstream market should recognise the Asian market. People would rather use just the mainstream channels. They're not aware and should be."
At Zee TV, the longest-surviving Asian TV station in the UK, the corporate communications manager, Kevin Rego, says that most of his advertisers are ethnic, "with a sprinkling of mainstream - Mars, COI and BT".
Many agencies are happy to use the main terrestrial channels, which will demonstrate their ethnic coverage, but Rego insists that his viewers, many of whom don't speak English, will watch Zee before anything else. "We try to explain the different mindframe to agencies," he says. But the argument frequently falls on deaf ears.
One major concern of mainstream advertisers and their agencies is the lack of research. At the specialist PR and marketing agency, Media Moguls, the managing director, Anjna Raheja, says: "It's the biggest problem - only one ethnic language paper and Asian women's magazine are audited. There's no independent research. I'm working with the IPA to put ethnic advertising on the landscape and to explain to the ethnic media what to do to be taken seriously."
"Quality is the other thing," Raheja continues. "People say, I have a level of quality to expect, and if the repro is poor or the content not what they expect, it can be a problem." She argues that the media might not be great quality, but that doesn't mean it won't work.
The success of Smart Asian Media publishing quality titles is proof of the potential strength of the Asian market. Where titles such as The Voice are in decline, there are others that are on the up. SAM's Asian Woman and Asian Bride were launched in the past two-and-a-half years by the Asian entrepreneur Sarwar Ahmed.
Ahmed describes Asian Woman as "modelled on Vogue and Marie Claire -a full colour, 350-page glossy". It has just registered an ABC of 35,000.
Asian Bride sells 32,000 or so copies, and Ahmed is ambitious for the title. "There's no reason why Asian Bride can't be Britain's leading bridal magazine." Ahmed is now taking his audited figures and readership survey figures to the big agencies. "Research shows our readers don't read other magazines. The key thing is they are getting a different audience."
With more choice of ethnic media and the emergence of quality titles and channels, the future looks bigger and better for the ethnic market.
Raheja is optimistic: "A lot more agencies and mainstream advertisers are waking up to the ethnic consumer."