Entering the Fray
The Spanish-language television network MundoFox is poised to join the ranks of Hispanic-oriented media. Tues., June 19, 2012.
By Kelsey Pospisil
Kelsey Pospisil (email@example.com), an AJR editorial assistant, is a master’s student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
MundoFox will debut this summer as a Spanish-language television network with the goal of providing the Latino population in the United States with fresh and relevant news. But is there room for a new team in the league?
Earlier this year, Fox International Channels, a subsidiary of News Corp., and RCN, a leading Latin America broadcast provider, announced their plan to enter this growing market. MundoFox is scheduled to launch on August 13.
Despite the presence of established networks Univision and Telemundo, "I do believe that there is a lot of room to better serve the Latino community in the country," says Jorge Mettey, senior vice president of news for MundoFox. "I strongly believe there is going to be a lot of demand for what we are going to offer to the community."
But MundoFox faces a major challenge, says Craig Allen, an associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University who studies the history of Spanish-language media. Allen says it would take "accomplishing the impossible feat" to become a true competitor of the top Spanish network, Univision. "Quality of news―it's a function of revenue... Univision just dominates this market. What [MundoFox] is proposing here has just been tried over and over again."
However, Allen adds, "The two things that are really promising about the Fox venture are that Fox has a lot of money [and] they have wisely gone toward a basic, traditional broadcast platform."
U.S. Census data show more than half of the growth in the United States population between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase among Hispanics. The Hispanic population jumped by 15.2 million people, while the overall U.S. population increase was 27.3 million.
In the 2010 U.S. Census, 50.5 million people responded they are of Hispanic or Latino origin. Alan Albarran, director of the Center for Spanish Language Media at the University of North Texas, points out that number doesn't include the millions of undocumented Hispanics. Albarran says the "exploding" Spanish-language media market does not signify "that all 60 million prefer Spanish as their primary language ―but clearly it is the historical language of their ethnic group, or it has sentimental value."
Mettey says the new network will place a great deal of emphasis on its news division, Noticias MundoFox.
Its newscasts will be anchored by Rolando Nichols of MundoFox affiliate KWHY Channel 22 in Los Angeles. Nichols plans to anchor KWHY's 5 p.m. evening newscast as well as MundoFox's national newscasts. KWHY's newsroom will soon be located in the same building in Los Angeles where the MundoFox national news operation is being built.
Nichols says the network decided last week to shift from its original idea of producing two live shows each evening ―one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast―to a more aggressive approach. It now plans to produce three evening newscasts which will go live at 6 p.m. on the East Coast, in the Mountain Time Zone and on the West Coast. Each show will be customized for residents of the targeted region.
Mettey says the network plans to build close relationships with all of its affiliates, frequently showcasing content produced by local stations. "The value of local news for a TV station is huge. There's no way to pretend to have a successful TV station operation without having local news."
Nichols says a small team has been hired to serve as MundoFox's Washington, D.C. bureau. Mettey told TVNewser in May that Noticias MundoFox will hire about 40 staffers over the next couple of months.
By late May, MundoFox had gained affiliates in more than 40 markets, eight of them in top-10 Hispanic markets. And it hopes to announce more affiliations soon. If all goes as planned, it would be on air in markets that include about 70 percent of the nation's Hispanic households.
TVNewser reported the evening newscasts will be the only news programming at the time of the channel's launch, but that Mettey is hopeful about expanding the lineup. MundoFox plans to supplement its original programming with content from a number of other outlets.
When Nichols is absent from the daily news operation, he will be replaced by anchors from other local affiliates in what Mettey calls "a win-win for everyone." "The national newscast will benefit from having regularly the newsperson from each local TV station providing their knowledge," Mettey says.
With the rise in the Latino population in the U.S., Hispanic media expert Federico Subervi says it's important to remember that there is not a monolithic Hispanic perception ―a distinction he says often gets overlooked in mass media.
Networks geared toward Latinos, such as Univision and Telemundo, offer multiple Latino voices that often are ignored by the national media, says Subervi, a professor at Texas State University-San Marcos and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media & Markets.
"The big, distinctive factor in Spanish-language media versus general market English media is more diversity of Latino voices," he says. "And among that diversity there are people who have critical views and they are presented there, which is absent from general market English."
Subervi says the reason Univision and other Hispanic-oriented news outlets give more face time to Latinos "is not as much bias as it is giving voices to the Latino community."
Univision's viewership increased 6 percent in the 18 to 49 demographic from 2010 to 2011. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported Univision was the only top-five network to see an overall increase in audience during that period.
In comparison, the other four major U.S. networks suffered losses in that demographic. Telemundo, while far behind Univision, had record-breaking growth in 2011.
Albarran says the Latino media market is hot because advertisers increasingly want to reach the burgeoning Hispanic population. "The main reason is that advertisers and marketers understand now that this is a powerful group―not only in terms of size, but also economic power and economic clout."
Subervi says Latino voices are particularly vital during a presidential campaign, since he says mass market news outlets don't always focus on the nuances that matter to many Hispanics.
For Noticias MundoFox, competitive election coverage is of paramount importance, Mettey says. But he recognizes it will take time for viewers to trust the fledgling network as a credible source. "This is such an important event in the country and the world that we will work very, very hard to get that respect." Since the network won't launch until mid-August, it won't have much time to play catch-up with established networks for this year's presidential contest.
Subervi warns that even now in the Latino-oriented media there is sometimes little special context to political stories. "What Spanish-language media often do is provide a Spanish version of traditional English-language news."
Mettey says MundoFox will strive to do more. "We do plan to work very hard to have that connection with our viewers. It's not just a matter of translating it... As long as you communicate emotionally, you can be successful."
Adds Nichols, "We need to make sure that we cover everything that is going on on the ground. But more than that, we should be able to inspire our community to get involved in the whole political process."
Says Arizona State's Allen, "The bigger question is not what the networks are going to have to do―it's what the candidates are going to have to do...The candidates need to take Spanish television more seriously than Spanish television needs to take the candidates [seriously]."
Mettey is a broadcast veteran who worked for 12 years as a news director for Univision Television Group. He was fired in April 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported, "after the company determined that he breached ethics policies in directing news coverage."
Press reports from the time say Mettey then filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination against Univision Communications. The L.A.Times reported that Mettey claimed in his suit he was fired "after he refused to go along with Univision's alleged practice of tailoring news coverage for some advertising sponsors." U.S. District Court records show the suit has been settled.
Mettey says MundoFox plans to utilize new platforms to help establish itself in a crowded media landscape. "You are going to see a very creative, aggressive, out-of-the box approach with social media and the other platforms that are not traditionally used as aggressively in news in Spanish."
And Mettey is excited about the looming launch. "Personally, I am so excited with this opportunity and this project," he says. "It's very rare to have the privilege of building up a TV network from scratch." ###