By Tim Dougherty
March 2001 - Demographic trends and recent broadcasting industry developments have yielded a curious dichotomy within the nation’s Hispanic community: Spanish-language television programming is proliferating, at a time when many younger Hispanics prefer to be entertained and informed in English.
Adolescents and young adults are among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. Hispanic population. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics age 18 to 24 will number more than 4.5 million, becoming the largest minority group in that age category, by 2005.
What’s more, evidence suggests that they favor English-language TV. In a survey by Cheskin Research two years ago, for instance, Hispanic teenagers expressed an overwhelming preference for English-language television, particularly the urban-oriented networks Fox and WB. Ad agency BBDO’s annual Report of Latino Viewing of Network TV consistently shows younger English-speaking Hispanics watching the same programs as their Anglo counterparts.
And yet in terms of industry growth, Spanish-language TV is where the action’s been. The last two years have seen the launch of two new Spanish-language networks (Azteca America and Hispanic Television Network) as well as the resurgence of Telemundo.
Like Univision, Spanish-language television’s dominant broadcaster, those networks rely heavily on foreign-produced programming to fill airtime. And many of their shows – which tend toward primetime soap operas (telenovelas), variety programs, and sports coverage – hold scant cultural relevance for a large number of younger U.S. Hispanics.
“It can’t be healthy for young Latinos growing up not to see themselves and their culture reflected on TV. It’s such an influential medium – there have to be some self-esteem issues involved,” says Robert Rose, a former Univision sales executive whose Artist and Idea Management is one of three companies launching the half-hour syndicated program “Urban Latino” on mainstream network television this fall.
“Across the board, there is not enough media coverage of Hispanic culture and issues, and for young Hispanics the problem is especially pronounced,” says Antonio R. Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). “The implicit message is that their cultural values and upbringing are not that important.”
English-language programming aimed at younger Hispanics has begun to catch on at the margins of the U.S. television industry. In addition to “Urban Latino” – which will run weekly in late-night time slots – Showtime has renewed the struggling drama “Resurrection Blvd.,” and Nickelodeon has ordered more episodes of the hit sitcom “The Brothers Garcia.” SiTV, which produces the latter program, is in the process of launching a cable network specializing in English-language fare geared toward Hispanics age 18 to 34.
These developments pale in significance alongside the advent of Azteca America and Hispanic Television Network, though. Formed in 1999 as a result of a merger involving Texas-based American Independent Network and Hispano Ventures, HTVN broadcasts Spanish-language, Mexican Hispanic-themed programming 24 hours a day (see “Move Over, Telemundo and Univision,” July/August 2000). The fledgling network already owns or is affiliated with 25 television stations, reportedly reaching one-third of U.S. Hispanic households. Azteca America, formed last year by Mexico’s TV Azteca and Pappas Telecasting of Visalia, California, is expected to begin operations in the next quarter (see “Entering the Fray,” December 2000).
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