|Long known for its wildly popular Spanish-language soap operas, Univision is now expanding into the late-night TV genre.
The move is significant as Univision increasingly positions itself as a rival to the English-language networks, boasting that their lost viewers are moving not to cable or video games but to Spanish-language TV.
At Univision’s upfront TV presentation to more than 1,100 agency and client executives last week, network executives announced a late-night talk show starting this fall called Ay Que Noche! The hour-long program, which sounds like it’s aiming to be a cross between The Late Show With David Letterman and Saturday Night Live, will air at midnight. Univision executives said they are conducting an international talent search now for a host. They noted that in starting the powerhouse Despierta America (“Wake Up America”) program eight years ago, Univision created a morning news genre that didn’t exist on Spanish-language TV. The No. 2 network, NBC Universal’s Telemundo, also announced an upcoming late-night show at its upfront last week, but gave no details.
Building a franchise
“It’s an opportunity to build a franchise in a daypart we know is appealing to a younger demographic, and can lead to water cooler talk value,” said Monica Gadsby, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s multicultural media unit Tapestry, Chicago. “The general market networks have had tremendous success with some of their offerings, like Letterman, [the Tonight Show's Jay] Leno and Saturday Night Live.”
In the Hispanic market, late-night TV has tended to be a graveyard for re-runs or a programming afterthought, with little consistency. Ms. Gadsby sees promise for a good late-night show because the Latino audience is young, driven by entertainment and prone to brand loyalty developed by watching telenovelas five nights a week, she said.
In a major shift this season, Univision claims to have drawn more of the (Hispanic and non-Hispanic) adult 18-34 audience than any one of the big four networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox -- on 146 of 231 nights.
Beat English-language networks
“We now consistently beat at least one of the ‘big four’ English-language networks, attracting more young viewers on nearly two out of every three nights this season,” said Alina Falcon, executive vice president and operating manager of the main Univision network. On 21 nights this season so far, Univision said it was watched by more adult 18-34 viewers than any other network, compared to zero last season.
“It’s not about being the fifth network [any more], it’s about Univision being one of the top five, or top four,” Ms. Gadsby said.
Spanish-language TV also scores over the general market networks in the genre of awards shows. While audiences for English-language awards shows have fallen by about 30% over the past five years, according to Nielsen figures, viewership of Spanish-language awards shows is up by 58% during the same period. To capitalize on that trend, Univision announced this month that the Latin Grammy Awards, a mediocre ratings performer on CBS, will move to Univision this year and become a Spanish-language awards show. Univision is so confident that the sixth annual Latin Grammys will be a hit in Spanish that the network has rescheduled the show for the November sweeps period.
Univision regularly issues press releases filled with ratings data about beating one or more of the four networks, and inserting itself into the big four. Besides claiming 25% growth in adult 18-49 viewership in the last year, Univision insists its viewers are more attentive to TV commercials. Citing a Univision-commissioned study by Nielsen Media Research, Univision said 36% of Hispanics watch an entire commercial if it’s in Spanish, compared with 17% if the commercial is in English. Only 10% of non-Hispanics watch a whole English-language commercial. The survey also found that 52% of Hispanic viewers often get information for making purchasing decisions from commercials on Spanish-language TV, compared with 17% watching English-language commercials and 7% of non-Hispanic viewers.
Fox's aggressive Hispanic push
The English-language networks consider the Hispanic audience worth fighting for, too. Fox’s presentation materials for the new season, handled out at last week’s upfront, include a section on “Delivering the Future: Hispanic Consumers,” in which Fox claims to be the No. 1 network for Hispanics in that advertiser-coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic. Citing a 2005 Hispanic Study for parent News Corp., Fox says the network has four of the top 10 programs by Hispanics: American Idol on Tuesday and Wednesday; The Simpsons; and Simple Life 3.
The Fox brochure also tells potential advertisers trying to reach Hispanics: “For assimilated Hispanics advertising is an issue of relevancy and recognition, not language. Ads that acknowledge their importance as consumers are more effective.”
Less than a year ago, Fox hired Rick Ramirez as vice president of emerging markets to help the network reach Hispanics.
The Hispanic market has come a long way from a lone Univision presentation nine years ago. This year even Gol TV -- a little-known all-soccer-all-the-time cable channel -- had an upfront spiel. One of the more offbeat shows presented at the upfront was SiTV's Party with Miss Bacardi, which will follow the Hispanic market’s own Paris Hilton, rum heiress Carolina Bacardi, on a VIP tour of Hollywood nightlife. SiTV, an English-language cable channel with the tagline “Speak English. Live Latin” also plans to do a regular parody of Univision's oldest show Sabado Gigante, called The Big Fat Giant Gigante Show.