Univision Effect Under Debate

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The jury is split.

Television professionals who work in Spanish-language broadcasting say the effect of Nielsen Media Research’s inclusion of Univision in the national ratings sample puts the Spanish-language network in the prime-time advertising big leagues. Those in English-language TV forecast barely a ripple, according to TV-time buyers and sellers.

Night after night of the first week in which Univision’s total viewership and demographics were scored on the same playing field as the English-language broadcast and cable networks, the Spanish-language broadcaster logged bigger and younger audiences than did UPN and The WB.

Granted, Univision, whose all-telenovela prime-time strategy dictates original episodes 52 weeks a year, was in originals during that time, while UPN and The WB aired repeats because of the holidays.

“Contra Viento y Marea” (“Against All Odds”), Univision’s 8 p.m. novela, won its time slot among 18- to 34-year-old viewers nationally that week, while “Alborada” (“The Dawn”) ranked third from 9 to 10 p.m. with the 18 to 34 demo nationally, according to prime-time data from Nielsen’s National Television Index for the week of Dec. 23-29.

The broad patterns continued throughout last week, when the networks were once again offering new series and original episodes of continuing series against Univision’s Monday-through-Friday strips of its telenovelas.

Executives in Spanish-language broadcasting contend Univision’s performance should draw the attention of national advertisers interested in going after the $750 billion-plus Hispanic consumer market.

Univision already knew from National Hispanic Television Index data-and told its advertisers-that Univision’s audience ranked fifth-largest nationally, often finishing close to Fox and well ahead of UPN and The WB in the 18 to 49 demo.

The NTI information further reinforces Univision’s point, said Ceril Shagrin, senior VP of corporate research for Univision.

“Awareness is a big thing,” she said.

Ms. Shagrin also has research from Nielsen that shows Hispanic viewers are more engaged by Spanish-language commercials and more receptive to the commercials’ messages than non-Hispanic viewers of English-language commercials.

“Anytime you’re mentioned in context with bigger names, you gain,” added one English-language broadcast research executive.

“Now that we’re being reported every day, it’s there for everybody to see and they can draw their own conclusions,” Ms. Shagrin said. “It’s a win in many ways.”

Eso mismo-ditto-for Telemundo, the NBC Universal-owned Spanish-language network that will be included in the NTI effective Jan. 30.

“It’s very important. The NTI is like the major leagues. It says you are now competitive. We’re happy to be put into that mix,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBC. Harry Keeshan, executive VP of national broadcast for media buyer PHD, was less enthusiastic.

“Is it something our clients will be buzzing about? I don’t think so,” Mr. Keeshan said. “A lot depends on advertisers’ initiatives. Yes, it’s important. But not every client has [a Spanish-language] initiative.”

Indeed, several members of the TV and advertising communities, especially those who work primarily in English-language TV, are more skeptical of Spanish-language broadcasters’ ability to snatch advertiser attention away from less-viewed general market networks.

Downscale Audience

Several skeptical insiders pointed out that the Univision audience as a whole is too downscale for the kinds of advertisers most English-language broadcasters woo.

“They [Univision] clearly are not reaching the primary-appeal Hispanic market,” said an English-language broadcast research executive, referring to more assimilated and younger bilingual viewers.

In addition, the Univision audience is so highly concentrated in a few markets and regions that advertisers might be better off just buying local Spanish-language airtime in those markets. Nielsen data shows that 40.1 percent of the Hispanic population is in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago, with 72 percent of

the Hispanic population in 20 markets.

What’s more, even though the Hispanic population has been the fastest-growing in the country for several years, it still is estimated at 10.2 percent of the total U.S. population and 11.23 million of the Nielsen universe’s 109.6 million U.S. TV homes.

“This is the ultimate niche programming,” said the English-language broadcast research executive.

Ms. Shagrin addresses the charge that Univision’s audience is downscale by pointing out that her network has proven results for clients.

“Advertisers on Univision have seen that advertising on our network produces sales, regardless of the cost of the product and regardless of the type of product,” she said. “That’s why automotives like GM have increased their spending year after year, as have sellers of packaged goods.”

Tom Maney, senior VP of ad sales for Fox Sports en Espa%F1;ol, concurred. “If I am selling Pennzoil, I only care about one color: green,” he said.

Ms. Shagrin also contends that in addition to growing in general, Hispanic audiences are becoming more widespread throughout the U.S. market-not just in the particular markets known as traditional Hispanic hubs. She cites U.S. Census population estimates released in June 2005 that show population growth rates slowing over the past 15 years in the major Hispanic centers such as California, Florida and New York (where the growth rates have been 61 percent, 110 percent and 39 percent, respectively) while doubling, tripling or quadrupling in Alabama (299 percent), Delaware (204 percent), Georgia (449 percent), Iowa (219 percent), Kentucky (251 percent), Minnesota (225 percent), North Carolina (575 percent), Oregon (205 percent), South Carolina (327 percent) and Tennessee (410 percent).

One English-language network researcher added that because of “the fact that we’re all being measured in the same sample, Univision simply can’t be dismissed.” However, most English-language broadcasters maintain they are not in competition with the Spanish-language networks.

The WB issued a statement that said: “It’s very difficult to draw conclusions based on end-of-the-year holiday repeat schedules, but as is the case in radio, foreign-language networks by nature target a very different audience and tend to do very well with their core audience. Univision has been the leader in Spanish-language television for a long time and they do very well attracting their target audience.”

Mr. Maney, whose network boasted six of the top 10 Spanish-language sports events on cable in 2005, has been selling a Hispanic audience for more than seven years. He said that advertisers who continue to overlook that audience are neither racist nor oblivious but merely students of the business school of thought that holds that “people seldom get fired for doing the same thing they did last year.”

“Change always takes time,” he said. “The early adapters to the Hispanic marketplace are reaping the rewards.”