Español Airwaves  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   October/November 2003

Español Airwaves   

By Tim Porter
Tim Porter, former assistant managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner, is associate director of Tomorrow's Workforce, a newsroom development project, and a freelance writer. He wrote about major newspaper companies' investment in Spanish-language papers in AJR's October/November 2003 issue. He can be reached at www.timporter.com/firstdraft.     

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As news director for the Dallas Spanish-language television station KXTX, part of the NBC-owned Telemundo network, Zoltan Csanyi- Salcedo is in the midst of a Spanish-language news war.

The combatants include not just his principal cross-town rival, KUVN, a member of what he calls the "juggernaut" that is Univision, but also the Spanish publications recently launched by the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But Csanyi-Salcedo isn't nervous about the competition. On the contrary, he welcomes the new papers, Al Día and La Diario Estrella, to Dallas-Fort Worth's competitive fray and hopes they help "bring more respect to Spanish-language news."

This regional scramble for viewers and readers demonstrates what many newspaper companies are just now learning but Spanish-language broadcasters have known for years: The 38.8 million Hispanics--now the nation's largest minority population--thirst for news and entertainment in their native language.

It is difficult to underestimate the effect of the Hispanic demographic bubble on the broadcast industry, which responds more nimbly to marketplace changes than the newspaper industry does.

The number of Hispanic households in the United States is forecast to double to 19.4 million in 2020. Spanish will be spoken in two-thirds of these households (about 42 million people), according to economic forecaster Global Insight. And electronic media consumption patterns back up that prediction--Yankelovich Partners, a market research group, found that 88 percent of Hispanics watch Spanish-language television and 79 percent listen to Spanish radio.

That's why NBC paid $2.7 billion for Telemundo two years ago; that's why Univision offered $3.5 billion to acquire Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., the nation's top Spanish-language radio company; that's why Hispanic television ad revenue grew more than 20 percent in 2002 (compared with 7.4 percent for its English-language counterpart).

Spanish-language broadcasting is dominated by big players intent on growing larger.

Univision rules the roost. Its mix of telenovelas, news and sports--broadcast over 183 stations, of which Univision and its subsidiary, TeleFutura, own and operate 52--reaches 97 percent of the Hispanic market, making it the most-watched Spanish-language network and the fifth-most popular network overall.

With the addition of cable (Galavisión), music (the No. 1 Latin music company in the U.S.), Internet (Univision.com, the most-visited Spanish-language Web site in the U.S.) and other ventures, Univision generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

(Univision's acquisition of Hispanic Broadcasting, which, according to Broadcasting & Cable, controls 40 percent of the Spanish- language radio audience ad revenue, was approved by the FCC September 22. The merger had been challenged by Univision's closest broadcast rival, Telemundo, and others.)

NBC's Telemundo owns and operates 24 stations and has 32 affiliates, but calling it a true competitor to Univision (52 stations, 131 affiliates) stretches the definition of the term. Univision has more than 80 percent market share nationally and the top-rated Hispanic station in every market it is in. Some of its nightly newcasts even outdraw all competitors--Spanish and English--among the sought-after 18-to-34-year-old audience in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the top three television markets.

Despite Univision's dominance, the allure of Hispanic buying power in the United States--projected to reach 9.4 percent of the national total by 2007--is strong enough to attract new players and cause others to expand.

TV Azteca of Mexico, one of the largest producers of Spanish-language programming in the world, spun off a U.S. subsidiary in 2001. Azteca America now operates in 26 markets. Telemundo launched a second network, Mun2, aimed at younger viewers, and Univision itself rolled out Telefutura last year.

A study on Hispanic media use done this year by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a California research group, underscored the need for Spanish-language news. News was the most frequently watched programming among Latinos, but only 16 percent reported watching news programming in English.

"English-language media," the study cautioned, "must recognize that they have not been as successful at attracting immigrant and other bilingual viewers through their news broadcasts as they have through entertainment programming."

Like mainstream media, some in heavily Hispanic communities have not caught on to the Spanish-language trend. "There are still agencies here in Dallas that don't even have Spanish-language public affairs officials that we can interview," Csanyi-Salcedo says. "We try to get an interview from a police department and they don't have anybody who speaks Spanish."

There's a "good old boy network," he says, that has been "slow to react to the fact that there are a large number of people who are living here, who pay taxes, who are part of this community, who happen to need their information in Spanish."

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