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Univision's Spanish Conquest

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As the demographic balance of the nation tilts away from an Anglo majority, the largest TV network in the country will soon be Hispanic. Univision CEO Joe Uva is confident they’re on target to achieve this in as little as three years. But will advertisers follow?

With double-digit ratings growth so far this season, Univision is off to a better start than any of the major English-language nets. Uva (pictured) believes he has the wind at his back in the ratings race.

The new Census is expected to show a nearly 45 percent increase in the number of Hispanic Americans since 2000, to a total of 50 million. This couples with continuing audience erosion at the major networks and Univision’s recent deal with Mexican programmer Grupo Televisa, which locks up the source of much the network’s popular programming for at least another decade.  

Just a few years ago, the notion of Univision catching and surpassing them would have had mainstream network executives rolling in the aisles with laughter. They’re not laughing now. And they’re not talking publicly about it either: When asked to comment last week, all four nets refused.

But a couple of executives talked on background, and indicated that they take the threat from Univision seriously. “They’re already No. 5,” as one put it, having eclipsed the CW. One top network researcher ran calculations that concluded Univision could surpass the Anglo networks in seven years, even without the boost provided by growth in the Hispanic population.

Ad buyers also believe that Univision has a good shot at topping the Anglo networks on its stated schedule. “It’s totally conceivable that in three to five years they would be, regardless of language, the No. 1 broadcast network,” said Steven Wolfe Pereira, svp, managing director at MV42, a unit of Publicis Groupe’s media agency MediaVest.

Brad Adgate, svp, director of research at Horizon Media, confirmed Univision is already making strides. “I could see them this season starting to win a couple of nights on adults 18 to 49,” Adgate said. “On Friday nights they’re close to being No. 1 already.”

Uva is confident that audience growth will drive ad growth in the future. He noted that 55 new brands signed on during this year’s upfront, where the network achieved 14 percent organic growth—entirely new money that wasn’t just shifted from the scatter market -- compared to 3 percent organic growth for the Anglo nets. And tens of millions of that growth, he said, were dollars shifted from English-language budgets -- a trend he believes will accelerate going forward.

“If you’re a marketer today it’s almost impossible to achieve sustainable long-term growth if you don’t spend against this consumer,” he said. That said, about two-thirds of TV advertisers have avoided Spanish-language TV up to now, according to buyers.

But when the Census is released next year showing the huge jump in the Hispanic population, “corporate boards will pay attention,” said Wolfe Pereira. “It will be a real wake-up call.”