This summer, there's a new No. 1 among television viewers aged 18 to 49: For the fourth week in a row, the Spanish-language network Univision has won the primetime ratings contest for this coveted demographic, as well as the 18 to 34 cohort. It's Univision's first top finish in a sweeps month; the network previously beat NBC to come in fourth in the critical February sweeps period.
"Univision has become known for airing first-run primetime programming every night, 365 days each year," said Univision Networks President Cesar Conde in an emailed statement. "Our audience has high expectations for us to deliver on the promise to bring them the best telenovelas, variety, news and sports programming, and our track record shows the result."
Indeed, at a time when ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are mostly airing repeats -- though "the Big Four have increased their original output this summer," notes Variety's Rick Kissell -- Univision's all-new lineup is a more attractive proposition for many viewers. In particular, its telenovelas -- soap-operatic miniseries like "Porque El Amor Manda" (Because Love Rules) and "Amores Verdaderos" (True Loves) -- have been ratings winners. (The latter just featured a same-sex wedding storyline, said to be the first of its kind on Hispanic television.) "Premios Juventud" (Youthfulness Awards), with a performance by Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull, was also a big success, outperforming last year's broadcast by more than 20 percent.
Strong ratings are translating into increased earnings for Univision, which "saw a 17.6% year-over-year jump in operating income in the second quarter," Variety reports. "Net revenue grew 10.4% to $676.5 million."
In a conference call with investors on Thursday, Univision CEO Randy Falco contrasted his network favorably with CBS (CBS), which has been struggling to reach a deal with Time Warner Cable (TWC). "We have a different offering than CBS," Falco said, according to Deadline.com. "I'm sure they're important to their viewers. But we are critically important ... We have a closer tie to our Spanish-speaking audiences [than any English-language service has with its viewers]. Distributors agree with us."
But regardless of who commands the most eyeballs overall, the 18 to 49 crowd is the audience "that advertisers die for," said Laura Martínez, who writes about Hispanic issues at Mi blog es tu blog, to NPR. "It's summer, they're running against reruns, against boring realties, but I think it's pretty impressive and it's definitely history-making."
Univision agrees, boasting, "We are the new American reality," in a press release cheekily addressed to its rivals:
While Univision declares "Número Uno" to be "The New #1", a report by the Pew Hispanic Center says that when it comes to news, more Latinos are using English-language sources than before:
According to Pew, the change "has been driven by an increase in the share of Hispanics who say they get their news exclusively in English" -- 32 percent in 2012, compared to 22 in 2006. Explanations include higher proficiency in English and rising numbers of U.S.-born Latino adults. But a record number of Latinos speak Spanish at home -- 35 million ages 5 and older -- and Spanish-language media is considered better on "news relevant to Hispanics."
In 2012, 82% of Hispanic adults said they got at least some of their news in English, up from 78% who said the same back in 2006. By contrast, the share who get at least some of their news in Spanish has declined, to 68% in 2012 from 78% in 2006.
Univision is poised to take advantage of this shift as well, entering the English-language news market through a joint venture with Disney-ABC TV (DIS). The companies' 24-hour cable channel, Fusion, will launch later this year. "Now, Univision occupies an interesting spot," notes MediaPost's Dave Goetzl. "It, of course, wants Fusion to thrive, but doesn't want that one-third of Hispanics gravitating to only English-language news to get so high that its news programming on Univision has major ratings drops."
But as Goetzl acknowledges, the overall rise of U.S. Spanish speakers is good news for Univision's hispanophone news business. And either way, there are always telenovelas, porque amor es para siempre.