The Hispanic Television Wars
By David Morse, President & CEO, New American Dimensions
A ceasefire was announced last month to a war that is being fought on American soil. It was not the war on terror, or drugs, or crime, or anything else that gets talked about much on television. Rather the war was about television itself, and two warring parties, Nielsen Media Research and Univision Communications, decided to call it quits after over a year of squabbling about Nielsen’s deployment of a new technology for measuring television viewership — Local People Meters (LPM’s).
With melodrama worthy of one its telenovelas, Univision announced a multi-million dollar contract in which Nielsen will provide local ratings for 35 Univision and TeleFutura owned-and-operated TV stations which will include existing or pending LPM service in five major markets.
A joint press release announced: “Nielsen and Univision have worked together for more than a decade to find more effective ways to measure the Hispanic television audience.” Interesting words considering that in June of last year, Univision had filed suit in Los Angeles, seeking an injunction to bar Nielsen from launching the LPM’s in that market. Nielsen filed a counterclaim and won when a judge refused to stop the LPM rollout, which took place on schedule last July.
It was an end to a bloody battle, but for Nielsen, the struggle goes on. News Corp. and Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of African American and Hispanic groups, continue to charge that LPM’s undercount minority viewers. Internally, Nielsen faces the difficult task of implementing the recommendations of the 19-member task force, chaired by former Congresswoman Cardiss Collins of Illinois, as to how to more accurately measure people of color.
Yet Univision seems to be facing the more formidable challenge — the explosion of Spanish language television on cable. According to Multichannel News, there are now over 75 channels aimed at Latin viewers in the U.S., including “en Español” versions of CNN, Fox Sports, The History Channel, MTV, as well as ESPN Deportes, and startups like GolTV, La Familia Network and Casa Club TV.
Add to the equation pending networks like Discover en Español‘s soon to be launched Discovery Kids en Español and Discover Viajar y Vivir (Travel and Living), and Univision will have a lot more on its mind than archenemy Telemundo, especially when considering that about three-quarters of Hispanic households have cable, a number that is certain to increase.
Moderator’s Comment: How do you see the changing dynamics of Spanish language television and cable affecting consumer marketing?
Things may have changed since 1961 when Univision’s predecessor SIN was launched with no competition, but even in today’s network-eat-network world, Univision’s
supremacy remains indisputable. The network currently reaches about 30 percent of Hispanic adult 18-49 viewers in prime time, compared to only 8 percent for first runner-up Telemundo.
Last year it was the fifth largest of all networks for all adults 18-49, non-Hispanics included. It ranked number one among all adults 18-34 years on at least 19 nights.
Today, Univision’s most significant competitor is not Telemundo, Spanish language cable or English language broadcast television (i.e. non-pay TV), but
rather, English language cable. According to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, English cable accounts for 33% of total Hispanic television viewing, just 4 points below Spanish
Language broadcast. With Hispanics teens, English cable is the winner — 45% tuned in, twenty points above both English and Spanish language broadcast. English cable is also number
one when factoring out Hispanic households that don’t subscribe to cable.
Since the vast majority of Hispanic households consume television in both Spanish and English, it is content rather than language that will determine where
Hispanic television sets tune in. Most of Univision’s success stems from its telenovelas. Rubi and Amor Real pulled in record audiences last year, and their replacements, Apuesta
por un Amor and La Madrasta are generating big gains this year.
But other networks, like SíTV and Telemundo’s mun2, are betting on the exploding second-generation Hispanic market by offering culturally
relative programming in English. Each currently boasts between 9 and 10 million viewers. It’s a strategy that makes sense, especially given the lamentable absence of Hispanic
characters on English language television. Though Hispanics now make up 14 percent of the population, they only make up between 3 and 4 percent of prime time characters.
David Morse – Moderator