Univision's dominance of the U.S. Hispanic TV market isn't deterring Spanish- and English-language competitors. More than five dozen cable and broadcast networks now are vying for a share of the market, according to industry reports, with the most recent new offerings aimed at an increasingly acculturated community.
In April, English-language SíTV joined NBC Universal's bilingual, MTV-like mun2 on the digital cable listings. And a second English-language cable channel, Voy Network, is seeking to launch next year. The entrepreneurs behind the moves are banking that English-dominant Hispanics will prefer culturally attuned English-language shows over Spanish-language and mainstream network fare.
"What we're really about is expanding the market," says Jeff Valdez, chairman and CEO of SíTV. The network is available in 9 million homes with digital cable or satellite access, up 38 percent from its launch. "To say one language fits all for Hispanics does a disservice to the market," he says.
And the market continues to be increasingly attractive. Ad spending targeting Hispanics on all network and local TV is expected to reach nearly $2 billion this year – up almost 22 percent over last year. Many industry watchers see a growing market for relevant English-language programming to capture younger, acculturated Hispanic viewers.
Already, digital cable and satellite services offer premium packages with Spanish-language versions of mainstream media names like Disney, CNN, MTV, ESPN, and Fox Sports. Comcast in October launched On Demand en Español, a video-on-demand service that includes Discovery en Español.
A survey by New York-based Horowitz Associates indicates 30 percent of English-oriented Hispanic households have digital cable. While some prefer Spanish-language TV and print, Tom Morrison, vice-president for target sales at New York-based Simmons Market Research Bureau, notes "a growing crossover group that consumes media in both languages."
More than 30 percent of 12,678 Hispanic adults Simmons surveyed this year said they preferred watching TV mostly in English, and an additional 24 percent preferred only English-language TV. Another 27 percent preferred Spanish with some English, and 15 percent preferred only Spanish.
"The swing group here are the bilinguals, be they English-dominant or Spanish-dominant," says Jon Swallen, vice-president for research at TNS Media Intelligence/CMR (TNS/CMR) in New York.
Scripps Networks, owner of Home and Garden Television and Food Network, is developing Spanish-language lifestyle programming for possible syndication, with an eye to eventually launching its own network. "The audience we're trying to reach has one foot in the traditions of their home country or that of their parents or grandparents, and the other foot in the U.S.," says Kristen Jordan, senior vice-president of international development for the E.W. Scripps Co. subsidiary.
While Telemundo, the No. 2 Spanish-language network, fell short of ratings expectations for its Summer Olympics broadcasts, the NBC Universal-owned network continues to offer an alternative to Univision's imported programming by experimenting with reality shows and telenovelas with domestic storylines.
Few believe Univison will be endangered any time soon: TNS/CMR estimates 70 percent of money spent on Hispanic media in the first half of this year went to Spanish-language TV – around 50 percent to Univision and an additional 15 percent to sister networks Telefutura and Galavision.
"Univision has been very strategic in diversifying their offerings to make sure they capture as much of the potential audience as possible," says Rosa Serrano, senior vice-president of multicultural group accounts for the New York market research firm Initiative Media.
Meanwhile, TV Azteca's fledgling Spanish-language Azteca America reaches about half of the U.S. Hispanic population, compared with 98 percent for Univision and 92 percent for Telemundo. Even so, Azteca America net revenues grew 60 percent in the third quarter from a year ago to $8 million.
Industry experts say there is vast room for growth, since Spanish-language TV advertising accounts for only 3 percent of the total ad market. Spots on Spanish-language stations generally sell at a 30 percent discount compared with their English-language counterparts, says Eddie Melendez, vice-president and director of sales for Entravision Communications, Univision's top affiliate.
"Hispanics continue to watch Spanish-language TV even as they move up the economic ladder, and I believe the gap in advertising revenues is going to narrow as advertisers realize that," Mr. Melendez says.
Still, the industry is sensitive to anything that could slow that growth, including this year's controversy over Nielsen Media Research's efforts to use new monitoring systems that appeared to boost cable-TV ratings at the expense of broadcast. The results raised charges of undercounting the Hispanic audience. Opportunities for Hispanics in entertainment, not to mention advertising dollars, are lost if Nielsen undercounts, says Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
"You must have Latinos represented on Nielsen in proportion to their population to form the base viewership for these kind of shows that gives them time to build viewership with other groups," says Mr. Nogales. "We are the market that everyone wants, not only because of our buying power but be-cause so much of our population is that desirable 18-to-34 demographic."
*Editor's Note: Nielsen Media Research and Univision Communications, Inc. announced on Nov. 29 that Univision dropped its lawsuit to halt Nielsen's use of Local People Meter service in Los Angeles. In response, Nielsen withdrew a motion against Univision.
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