The Hispanic Television Wars

Jul 06, 2005

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

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4 Comments on "The Hispanic Television Wars"

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
16 years 10 months ago
Cable is certainly a factor that is having an impact on all television viewers, Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike. The English language networks are feeling the effects of cable as English language cable is where all teens spend most of their time. While Univision is not exempt from this fragmentation, they still remain the dominant player in the Spanish language programming and viewing arena, and that position is not likely to dwindle any time soon. At the same time, smart marketers should be requiring their agencies and media buying services to analyze the benefits of cable and the audiences captured. It’s target marketing after all, and what better way to target than through the personalized programs that cable offers. I highly recommend the Cable Advertising Bureau’s book on Multicultural Cable. It’s available via the CAB and is a window on a very powerful and emerging broadcast world. I’ve noticed Univision is getting more and more vocal about positioning themselves as the fifth network. Frankly, there are many marketers and general market agencies and media buyers out… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
16 years 10 months ago
This is a battle between various media for advertising dollars. It’s like reapportionment or redistricting during elections, where all sides strive to influence the outcome in their favor. To be clear, there is no ethnic loyalty, racial pride, or cultural centricity involved in this battle. It’s all about money. Spanish language television and cable provide a different way to communicate with self-selecting population segments. (Self-selecting means that multi-lingual viewers can choose the medium featuring the language they prefer at the moment.) Consumer marketers are faced with a daunting challenge in the efficient – and fiscally responsible – use of this seemingly attractive, and definitely growing, advertising vehicle. As the various media involved scrap for audience share, they seek ways to verify their viewership in order to command higher advertising rates. Clearly Nielsen’s viewership measurement solution is unsatisfactory to some of these media competitors because – surprise! – they’re not verifying the audience figures that the television networks would prefer to sell to advertisers. This is called enlightened self-interest, and has absolutely nothing to do with… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
16 years 10 months ago
Sorry about not being “politically correct,” but Nielsen’s job is to provide information to advertisers upon which they can make financial decisions about how to best deploy their marketing resources. As Nielsen has been doing this with some success for a few years, I don’t see the benefit of changing a system that has been judged satisfactory by the overwhelming majority of advertisers — especially when the pressure to change does not seem to be based on facts (Nielsen’s long suit) but on a “politically correct whine” by groups who are exclusive in their nature. These groups do not pretend to be impartial or fair – each has its own self-serving agenda and that agenda doesn’t concern itself with providing impartial information to advertisers. As the information stated, the primary competition to Univision is English speaking cable. This is supposed to be a melting pot. Univision is upset because its audience is melting and flowing away, and the other minority groups are making noise just to be noticed as their rap/gangsta culture has silently alienated… Read more »
Rupa Ranganathan
Rupa Ranganathan
16 years 10 months ago

Consumer marketers will need to discover new ways to partner with ethnic media as this proliferation of cable channels continues. Research and measurement of who is viewing, how much and of what will continue to drive a lot of strategy. But, marketers will need to delve deeper into the roles these various channels play in the lives of ethnic consumers and cultivate innovative ways to partner with niche and media channels to further their relationships with Latinos and other multicultural consumers. David Morse is so right. This is a new kind of battleground. And marketers who understand the emotional equation that many of these emerging channels have with their target audiences will be able to seize a larger share of the hearts and wallets of these diverse customers. Surely, there is a strong emotional reason to pay 70-100 dollars for additional channels outside of the mainstream network. Tapping into this sweet spot will therefore require some risk taking by brand managers and a whole lot of creativity.


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