The Next Big Thing in Hispanic Media

I wrote earlier today about our Sneak Preview of Laura Colarusso’s fascinating cover article from the May/June issue of the Washington Monthly about the Romney/Rubio problem with the dominant Spanish-language media outlet in the country, Univision, and its highly influential nightly news anchor, Jorge Ramos. I also mentioned in passing Fox’s effort to compete with Univision via a new channel named MundoFox, set to debut this fall.

But there’s another development today which could strengthen Univision’s influence: an announcement that ABC and Univision are about to launch a new English-language cable network aimed at Hispanic audiences in this country. Here’s the New York Times’ report by Brian Stelter:

The companies, which will each own 50 percent of the joint venture, said Monday morning that the channel — which is, as yet, unnamed — would start sometime in the first half of 2013. Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, said it would be “a 24/7 news, information and lifestyle network primarily in English that will serve the youngest and fastest-growing demographic in the country: U.S. Hispanics.”

The channel will include lifestyle, entertainment and health-related programming as well as traditional news programming, thereby distinguishing it from cable news channels like CNN and Fox News. Nonetheless, it will likely garner comparisons to traditional cable news channels.

Both companies get something distinctive out of the collaboration. ABC obtains a cable subscriber base to help subsidize its broadcast news coverage (much as MSNBC helps defray NBC News’ costs) along with penetration of an important market. And Univision goes hunting where the ducks are in terms of its core audience:

Media companies like Disney are eager to provide advertisers new ways to reach Hispanics, whose numbers are swelling according to census estimates. A recent report by Nielsen projected that the buying power of Hispanics in the United States, estimated at $1 trillion in 2010, will grow to $1.5 trillion in 2015.

Spanish-language programming alone isn’t sufficient. Researchers say first-generation Hispanics in the United States tend to watch shows in Spanish, but many second- and third-generation Hispanics gravitate toward shows in English — which partly explains why Univision has been trying to expand in this area. Univision recently started providing English-language subtitles for some of its Spanish-language prime time shows.

Univision has also been expanding its news division, which isn’t nearly as well known as the English-language news divisions of NBC, ABC and CBS. It has added newscasts at some of its local stations and rolled out a Spanish-language news channel on Dish Network.

As TPM’s David Taintor notes today, this collaboration is a challenge to NBC on two different fronts:

Monday’s announcement is bound to make some NBC executives nervous. That network’s spanish-language network, Telemundo, distantly trails Univision’s ratings.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.