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Betting on Spanish

New networks may supercharge the Spanish TV media market, but can they give their audiences what they truly want and need?

Veronica Villafa├▒e

STORY TOOLS

Twenty years ago, when I began my reporting career in Spanish-language television news, I remember fatalistic predictions that Spanish-language media would inevitably disappear as newer generations of Hispanics became “acculturated.” Back then I told these naysayers (among them marketing and media “experts”) that I believed the contrary was going to happen. History has proven me right.

Univision has become a media powerhouse, with millions tuning in—even the young, bicultural and bilingual Latinos. Nielsen ratings data shows that among Univision’s total viewers, over 1.6 million bilingual Hispanics watch the network during primetime and at times, it’s the most-watched network in the country, regardless of language. While Telemundo comes nowhere near Univision, its viewership has also grown, proving Spanish-language television remains a viable business. 

That doesn’t mean Hispanics aren’t watching English-language TV. They are. A recent Pew Hispanic Center study found that among all Hispanics, 45 percent watch English-language TV, 28 percent Spanish-language programs, while 26 percent say they use both languages equally. English television consumption increases with each generation, but among immigrant Hispanics, 40 percent watch Spanish-language TV. By the second-generation, 69 percent tune in to English and by the third, that rises to 83 percent, while dual or Spanish-language TV viewing drops.

Despite the fact that Hispanics are increasingly tuning in to more English-language programs, two big media players are betting Spanish-language TV is still a sound investment. MundoFox and Time Warner Cable have doubled down—announcing the launch of two new Spanish-language networks in 2012. Seven months and $50 million later, the heavily marketed and promoted MundoFox debuted Aug. 13. Time Warner Cable’s plans for the Oct. 1 launch of TWC Deportes, a new regional cable sports network, weren’t as grandiose. Both new networks face stiff competition from solidly established networks.  MundoFox will challenge Univision and Telemundo. TWC Deportes has ESPN and Fox Deportes to contend with.

The two new networks have picked Los Angeles as the headquarters for their new ventures. The City of Angels is, after all, the number one Hispanic market. Emiliano Saccone, president of MundoFox, argues its location will add to their competitive advantage over established networks Univision and Telemundo, besides being able to benefit from the Fox News Corp. resources located here. A TWC Deportes executive boasts that all of its programming will be produced in the U.S., not “shipped” off to Mexico, making reference to both ESPN and Fox Deportes, which produce a lot, if not the majority, of their content outside the country.

Both MundoFox and TWC Deportes promise a better alternative to the current programming already available. But will they deliver higher caliber content that could attract new Spanish-language and bilingual viewers or siphon them off from competitors? That will be the bottom line. It’s not about where the network is located, flashy graphics or hype. It’s about offering quality shows and truly understanding what the target audience wants and needs. 

Hispanics are experiencing explosive population growth. Now 52 million strong, it’s expected that by 2016 that number will balloon to almost 60 million. But younger consumers are evolving. They’re adapting to U.S. culture while maintaining their families’ cultural identity. Their youth—at an average age of 28—spending habits and $1.1 trillion buying power, make Hispanics an attractive and lucrative consumer target for advertisers. But without a clear notion of how to market to them, the question still remains on whether to do it in English or Spanish. Even Univision, which for decades has remained steadfast in its commitment to Spanish-language, has begun exploring English-language programming. In 2011, it introduced an online English-language news site and in 2012 it announced a partnership with ABC News to launch a 24-hour news network in English. 

Will MundoFox and TWC Deportes’ investment pay off? It’s really about substance over language. Spanish-language networks should always offer high quality and thought-provoking news and entertainment. If they do, more bilingual viewers will watch, possibly retaining future Hispanic generations. Unfortunately, at times Spanish-language TV programming can be shallow, with low production values, and even insulting. There shouldn’t be a different value set for English vs. Spanish-language television viewers. They all have one thing in common. Hispanic TV viewers don’t want to be taken for granted. They’re smart and they know they have more options…including turning off the TV switch. •

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