We speak English here
A scene from “Alborada,” a popular Univision soap opera.
Changing U.S. Audience Poses Test for a Giant of Spanish TV
By MIREYA NAVARRO
Published: March 10, 2006
LOS ANGELES, March 9 — Rosa Guevara, a Mexican-American dental hygienist, grew up with the Univision network's Spanish-language soap operas, which she still watches. But Mrs. Guevara, 59, now watches alone.
On any given night, her husband is glued to a western on cable while her 25-year-old daughter who used to watch the soaps with her, may tune in to "George Lopez" on ABC or syndicated reruns of "Friends."
"She doesn't like telenovelas anymore," said Mrs. Guevara, who lives in Pico Rivera, an overwhelmingly Latino city in Los Angeles County.
Households like the Guevaras' reflect an evolution in what was once the unquestioned loyalty of the vast Latino audience in the United States, where Univision is the giant of Spanish-language television.
Catering to the country's growing Latino population — 40 million and counting — Univision now challenges ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, especially in big coastal cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, occasionally beating them in the ratings with its sexy, soapy prime-time shows.
But as would-be buyers prepare bids for Univision Communications, a consortium including Grupo Televisa of Mexico, which supplies many of the network's shows, emerged Thursday as a potential bidder. [Page C1.]
Any new owner would have to wrestle with the shifting dynamics of the company's audience. More Latinos are American-born and English-speaking, and their tastes in television are changing more quickly than Univision's shows.
That poses challenges not only for Univision but for other Spanish- and English-language networks. For the first time, networks on each side of the language divide could significantly expand their audiences by pursuing the same demographic group: second- and third-generation Latinos who are bilingual or speak mostly English and are as likely to watch "Fear Factor" on NBC as "El Gordo y la Flaca" ("The Scoop and the Skinny") on Univision, and who are largely underserved in either language.
"This audience wants to be validated," said Jeff Valdez, founder of SiTV, a two-year-old English-language cable network that caters to young Latinos and multicultural urban youth. "They want to see themselves on screen. They want to hear their stories."
Latino culture varies from the coasts. On the East Coast, African American and Latino culture overlaps to a great degree.
In California and Florida, it's distinct.
The younger people are, the less likely they are to speak Spanish except as a way to gossip, and the kids are less bilingual by the year.
The problem with Univision is that most of the telenovelas do not look like Americans. The casting and stories remain captive to Latin American standards of whiteness. Indians and blacks are excluded for the most degree. Jennifer Lopez is too dark to be a Telenovela star. Rosie Perez, forget it. Salma Hayek was a Mexican soap star. But unless you have strictly European features, you won't be the lead.
The problem is that Latinas, especially in New York, closely identify with African Americans and that isn't anywhere in their media. In LA, the Indian culture of Latinos is also ignored.
Why watch some white guy speak Spanish, when you can see George Lopez (to dark to be a telenovela lead) or Carlos Mencia, speaking in English and talking about things you understand.
Why see a Spanish language movie, when you can see Robert Rodriguez's films with latino actors and actresses who are not bound by the Telenovela standard. People want to see themselves on film and on TV, and Univision doesn't do that.
posted by Steve @ 1:29:00 AM