What is the language of America? Arguments about bilingual education are old hat by now, and, while English is the nation's official language, Spanish customs and the Spanish language have naturally seeped into the culture.
Young Hispanic viewers straddle two television worlds—Spanish-language television and English-language channels—and Hispanic networks are plotting ways to keep those precious young eyeballs on their air. Increasingly, the two largest—Univision and Telemundo—and their offspring networks aggressively program to younger viewers.
The inspiration is quite logical: The Hispanic marketplace skews very young. Among U.S. Hispanics, the median age is about 29, according to 2000 Census figures. That puts more than half the population squarely in the young 18-34 demo. In contrast, the median age of U.S. television viewers is 37.
"In the U.S., there's no one-size-fits-all network in Spanish," said Eric Sherman, head of MTV Networks digital services, which includes Spanish-language channels MTV Español, in about 4.5 million homes, and VHUno, which serves about 1.5 million. "There isn't enough programming out there for the youth market."
MTV Español caters to a very specific niche: fans of Mexican music. The network sticks to Latin music, refusing to air Spanish versions of English songs. Bilingual artists like Shakira and Ricky Martin, though, are a big draw on MTV Español and other Spanish-language services.
Young viewers are a lucrative target, with about $140 billion in buying power, according to Telemundo, and those census figures have advertisers salivating. One in six U.S. teens are Hispanic; within the next five years, 25% of the U.S. will be Hispanics under 25 years old.
Packaged goods and household products have been the mainstay of Hispanic advertising for years. Now younger viewers are inspiring ads for movies, electronics, technology and financial services.
There are new marketing opportunities for product tie-ins. Telemundo is working product placement into all of its new reality shows
reigns as the most-watched Hispanic format by all age groups, including younger viewers. Telemundo is producing its first teen novela, Los Teens,
centered on the lives of U.S. Hispanic teenagers, slated to debut later this year and featuring product placement. The first novelas
in Univision's prime time block, 7 p.m. ET, are typically teen-oriented like upcoming teen love drama Vías del Amor.
Hispanic broadcasters are beginning to sprinkle in new, youthful formats. Telemundo's first experiment with American-style reality came last spring with Protagonistas de Novela, a search for a new novela
star. It was scheduled like a novela, airing every night for 8 weeks.
"To put a reality show in the prime time novela
block and show it every night was to say to viewers, 'OK, let's change your thinking a little bit,'" said Telemundo Director of Program Development Mimi Belt.
Over the course of its run, Protagonistas de Novela
doubled its viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds, and the series' finale earned a season-high 5.4 rating in the demo.
NBC-owned Telemundo will offer three more reality shows this season.
Animation also is spilling over to Hispanic television. Univision is transforming comic strip Baldo
into a series for this season.
New formats are risky, though, because there's no telling what finicky Hispanic teens will accept or reject, says Monica Gadsby, managing director for media buyer Starcom MediaVest's multicultural division, Tapestry.
While the older Hispanic demographic is loyal to its TV choices, Gadsby said, "young viewers go back and forth between Hispanic and general-market networks."
As more Hispanics are born in the U.S. or schooled in English, their media choices have expanded. Fox, NBC, MTV and BET are popular English-language destinations, industry executives say.
Young Hispanics finally got their own dedicated service last fall, when Telemundo relaunched the older-skewing Gems cable network (often called Lifetime Television for Hispanic housewives) as an MTV-style network Mun2 (pronounced "mun dos").
Mun2 casts a different cultural net, targeting third- and fourth-generation bilingual Hispanics. The Telemundo flagship focuses on first- and second-generation Hispanics.
Unlike Spanish-only Telemundo and Univision, Mun2 embraces "Spanglish," a mix of Spanish and English, according to Mun2 Programming VP Yolanda Foster. "By the time we reach them," she explains, "they are more acculturated."
Mun2 offers pop-culture–driven shows on music, entertainment and cooking, most with the requisite sexy hosts.
Although there's no classic repurposing of Telemundo shows, Mun2 is trying to create complementary shows. An example will be a companion show to Telemundo's upcoming Protagonistas de la Musica.
Outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage "will be edgier, something that would make a 50-year-old Latina woman faint," Foster said.
With a mix of U.S. co-productions and acquired product, Mun2 fills a robust 17 hours per day. Mun2's audience is still small, though: The network reaches only about 3 million homes. Still, "they are offering a new option in programming space," observed Initiative Media's head of audience research Stacey Lynn Koerner.
By virtue of market share—Univision attracts about 70% of the general Hispanic audience—the network attracts the most young eyeballs. More Hispanic teens and 18- to 34-year-olds watch Univision than watch the seven English-language broadcast nets combined. Univision's new broadcast network Telefutura, which launched in January, skews younger and more male, thanks to its mix of sports and dubbed Hollywood theatricals.
Sports programming is the second-most-watched genre, and Telemundo recently inked a three-year TV deal with the National Basketball Association. Both Telemundo and Mun2 plan to create wraparound programming to complement it. Univision heaps on boxing to attract young men.
But Hispanic marketers expect the reality genre to take a strong hold with young and old Hispanic viewers. "What makes a good reality show work is drama," explains Starcom's Gadsby. "Reality is a giant novela."