"This time next year, if you're not in Hispanic media, you're going to want badly to get in," said
Once a cozy little Monopoly board with all the hotels stacked on two properties, Univision and Telemundo, Spanish-language television has turned into a rambunctious free-for-all with new competitors getting into the game all the time.
The siren song that beckons them: explosive population growth among U.S. Hispanics, which has already outstripped every demographic projection of the past decade and is expected to show an even more breathless pace when results of the 2010 census are in.
Some industry figures think tangible proof could come as soon as June, when the World Cup soccer tournament begins in
Pounded by the same recessionary forces that have
hammered all media the past couple of years, Spanish-language TV
advertising billings dropped nearly 5 percent to
—Estrella TV, launched by veteran Spanish-language
—LATV, launched in
—Even public television has gotten into the act with V-me, a network created in 2007 by a partnership of
Launching a new broadcast TV network used to be a rare, expensive and usually quixotic act. (English-language broadcasters have tried it just four times in the past half-century, and only two of them survived.) Luring stations away from their affiliations with existing networks was all but impossible.
But the signal switch last year that gave broadcast stations several new digital sub-channels has opened up signal space that the nascent Spanish-language networks have quickly latched onto.
"It's a very clever strategy," said Miami Hispanic media consultant
The technological strategy, however, would be little
more than a footnote in a management textbook if the viewers weren't
there. In 2000, the
Now the official figure has hit 47 million, and some demographers think it will be 50 million when the final census figures are in. An added sweet spot for broadcasters: About 60 percent (much larger than for non-Hispanics) are between the ages of 18 and 49, exactly the bracket that TV advertisers covet.
"That's exactly what is bringing all these new companies to Spanish-language TV," said
Univision and Telemundo have not been standing idly by while the new networks steal their lunches. Between them, they still have more than two-thirds of the Spanish-language audience. And TeleFutura, a sister network launched by Univision in 2002, finally emerged as a Nielsen power last year. In February, it even edged out Telemundo for second place in the national Spanish-language ratings.
"Univision has gotten so big over the years that our primary competition is the English-language networks," Conde said. "We're one of the top five networks in any language now in the 18-to-49 age group. And in 18-to-34, we're usually the second- or third-largest, regardless of language. ... TeleFutura is really the part of our company that focuses day-to-day on the Spanish-language market."
Who has the biggest share of the pie, however, may not be the most important element of a strategy in a growing industry. "Everybody thinks there's just one pie, finite and static," Telemundo's Browne said. "But the beauty of the Hispanic media business is that the pie is going to grow. There's plenty to go around."
In fact, the pie is getting so large that the
biggest challenge facing Spanish-language broadcasters is exactly where
to slice it. Univision and Telemundo still target the broadest-possible
general Hispanic audience. But does a third-generation Cuban yuppie in
"The market in Spanish-language media consumption is going to change dramatically in the next 10 to 15 years, and I don't know if the old guard understands what is going to happen," Jacobson said.
The biggest change: Hispanic population growth is
being driven now by birth rates rather than immigration. A new
Spanish-language TV viewer is more likely to have been born and raised
The shifting nature of the audience has already created a host of new demographics for Spanish-language broadcasting executives. In addition to targeting viewers by age, gender and income, as their English-language counterparts do, they split them into categories like Spanish-dominant, bilingual and acculturated.
"Viewing consumption can vary a lot depending where you came from and especially how long you've been here," said
Some of the newer Spanish-language broadcasters have carved out a market niche by programming with an eye to national origins.
Others have experimented with ditching traditional
Spanish-language broadcasting altogether. In 2008, SBS even slaughtered
the industry's most sacred cow of all, for three months building its
schedule not around a nightly rags-to-riches-and-romance telenovela but
a weekly drama about a
It was the most ambitious and expensive programming
ever produced for Spanish-language TV. SBS won't disclose its budget,
but the number kicked around the industry is
"The thinking was to provide alternative programming, more edgy and intelligent," said
Not even SBS thinks the telenovela, the foundation of Spanish-language TV, is going to disappear. "We're running two of them right now," Gerson said. "That's going to be a standard that people will always support. People like story lines."
But the novela is getting a makeover to give it some
cultural signposts for an audience that's increasingly oriented to U.S.
urban life and sensibilities. Telemundo is already spending an
Univision's move is widely seen as a hedge against the possible end of its programming deal with the Mexican studio Televisa, which has produced almost all of the network's novelas for the past two decades. The Televisa contract — at times the subject of rancorous litigation between the two — is set to expire in 2017. But Univision's Conde said he expects it to be extended and even expanded, and says setting up a studio is simply a wise investment in a booming market.
"Investing in this Hispanic market is investing in growth," he said. "Investing in any other broadcasting is investing in a static or declining business."
(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.