TV Bebé Boom

Univision and Telemundo still dominate Hispanic TV, but a rash of start-up channels is about to make things a lot noisier

Spanish-language programming is getting more sophisticated as the size of the market grows. While it’s true that many American Hispanics love novelas, repackaged programming from abroad does not necessarily resonate as much as material produced in the U.S. for American audiences. With that in mind, Univision’s stateside production company, Univision Studios, has generated U.S.-specific material for the network since it was created in 2009.

“It’s natural over periods of time that communities, people, audiences evolve, and that’s one of the responsibilities for us as a media company to evolve with them,” says Conde.

Consequently, Latino-focused TV production in the U.S. has ramped up and is where advertisers are happiest putting their budgets.

“We’re importing less and making more, and obviously that’s expensive,” says Jose Tillan, general manager and evp of MTV’s Spanish-language sister, Tr3s. “But it also rates the best and it’s what our advertisers want, rather than an imported product from Mexico or Colombia or Venezuela.”

Significantly, the latest Census data showed the U.S. television industry in the U.S. not only that there was an underserved segment of the population—second- and third-generation Hispanics who don’t care so much for repackaged programming from elsewhere in the Americas—but also that they weren’t most effectively leveraging general market content with these audiences.

Romano says Spanish-language broadcasters run the risk of losing an enormous chunk of their bilingual viewership. “When we’re dealing with Hispanics who are Spanish-predominant, the language barrier works in our favor, and they’re watching only Spanish-language media. Second- and third-generation Hispanics can go anywhere in the general market,” he explains.

In short, Spanish-language TV doesn’t tell the entire story of the Hispanic consumer. Second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans watch plenty of English-language television, of course. As that audience grows more acculturated—and likewise, as the American culture and TV programming come more and more to reflect this particular segment of the population—nostalgia for entertainment by way of the rest of the Americas could wane.

Therefore, the explosion of new television networks won’t necessarily look like the invasion of the telenovela.

Director-producer Robert Rodriguez—best known for his feature films El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, and who is launching a male-targeted digital network for Comcast called El Rey (“The King”)—explains: “Things that work for the first generation don’t work the same way for the others.”

Fully developed Hispanic characters, Rodriguez adds, “mean a little something to people who are Latin because they get to go, ‘Oh cool, we’re on television.’ They don’t want to feel like they’re a niche group that has to have their special programming. They want to feel like they’re part of the culture at large.”

Rodriguez—whose network will be in English, even though, he points out, “You’ll see some things that reward you for speaking Spanish”—says he wanted to create generally entertaining content that would overindex with Hispanic consumers, rather than merely pandering. “People think, oh, they’re a niche audience—let’s make ’em niche programming,” he says.

(It bears mentioning that Rodriguez is one of few second-generation Hispanic Americans to have achieved the highest reaches of the television industry in the U.S., let alone run a network.)

Locally produced content also helps pave the way for integrated talent and product placement, both of which attract more ad dollars as viewership becomes more fragmented, and mobile. As partnerships between advertisers and networks become more common and more tight-knit, Hispanic-focused channels are looking to generate still greater revenue from those deals.

“The biggest thing for me going into the upfront is the inequity in market share,” says Lauren Zalaznick, who heads up NBCU’s Entertainment and Digital Networks division, including Telemundo. “You have 16 percent of the population simply defined as Hispanic through the Census, but we command only 4 percent of the ad dollars in advertising—it’s really disproportionately low,” the executive points out.

NBCU’s position is a unique one. While it is not uncommon for a media company to offer product integration in programs and across properties, far fewer are offering integration by demographic across multiple networks.

One of Zalaznick’s key marketing initiatives in recent years has been Hispanics at NBCU, a program that allows advertisers to buy time on shows across the company’s entire media portfolio which attract a larger-than-average Hispanic viewership, as opposed to buying time on a single network. Those campaigns cost more than a standard-issue media buy, but also they tend to overdeliver.

Univision is getting into the business of integrated marketing as well (see Trending Topics, page 12). That promises to up the ante considerably since closer associations with the network’s biggest asset—its exclusive talent pool—will doubtless attract plenty of advertiser attention.

“There’s such a strong connection to this culture as long as you’re able to offer programming they can’t find anywhere else,” Conde says. “This is a very savvy consumer.”

Click here to view more content from The Hispanic Issue.