Litzy Dominguez stars in the popular telenovela Una Maid en Manhattan on Telemundo.
Rapid growth in the U.S. Hispanic community has created another boom — in Hispanic media. In recent months, several major media players have announced plans to join the competition for the Hispanic television audience. There's a new Hispanic broadcast TV network coming, plus a host of new cable channels aimed at Latinos.
The numbers tell the story: According to the census, the U.S. Hispanic population jumped by more than 40 percent in the past decade. The nation's 50 million-plus Hispanics now make up 16 percent of the TV-viewing public.
And those numbers are expected to grow. Univision is already the nation's fourth-largest network. In some markets and time slots, it hits No. 1.
Four years ago, the network's growing clout was recognized when it hosted both the Democratic and Republican candidates in primary debates. This year, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney sat down for extended interviews in a candidate forum, hosted in English by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and broadcast with a simultaneous Spanish translation.
"Historically, Univision was Spanish first and Spanish only. They were adamant about that," says Roberto Orci, CEO of Acento Advertising in Los Angeles. Orci says that's beginning to change: Univision recently began broadcasting its prime-time telenovelas with English subtitles — something competitor Telemundo has done for years.
I Love Jenni, aired on mun2, follows Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera and her family.
That's a nod to changes in the Hispanic population shown in the census: Over the past decade, most of the growth in the Latino population came not from immigration, but from births — kids born and now being raised in the U.S.
Market research shows that only about a fifth of U.S. Hispanics now prefer Spanish-language programming on TV. The rest — some 80 percent of the Latino population — are bilingual or prefer English.
Helen DeJesus is a good example. She's bilingual, a second-generation Cuban-American who lives in a Miami suburb.
"I don't watch Spanish channel," she says. "In a way, that's a bad thing, because I should, especially for my son."
DeJesus says watching Hispanic TV growing up helped her sharpen her Spanish-language skills. But she's part of a growing Latino population that is moving to English language TV. Acento's Roberto Orci says that trend is sending a clear message to Hispanic broadcasters.
"We have to appeal to them in culture, but in the language of their preference," Orci says. "And a lot of the bilingual Hispanics watch English-language television and Spanish-language television. So you want to be able to reach them where they are."
Orci greets as good news a recent report that Univision is in talks with Disney to develop an English-language all-news channel aimed at Hispanics. It's one of several new cable channels for Latinos planned by Univision and other media companies.
Cable operator Comcast recently announced plans for two new channels — including one that will be run by movie director Robert Rodriguez. It also will be in English. It joins competitors like NuvoTV, an English-language channel aimed at a young, bicultural Latino audience.
The No. 2 Spanish network, Telemundo, is part of NBC Universal. It has long made English part of its programming — both in its use of Spanglish and in the subtitles it shows on telenovelas like Una Maid en Manhattan.
Telemundo Chief Operating Officer Jacqueline Hernandez says reaching Hispanics is about more than language. It's also about their culture, and she says her network's telenovelas reflect that.
"They're created in the U.S. for the U.S. Hispanic audience," Hernandez says. "And they reflect the world that we live in."
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Director Robert Rodriguez, whose films including El Mariachi and Spy Kids often feature Hispanic actors, has partnered with Comcast to head the El Rey cable network. Its programming will be aimed at a bicultural, English-speaking audience.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
Anticipating the move toward a younger, bilingual audience several years ago, Telemundo launched a cable channel, Mun2 — pronounced "mundos," a play on "two worlds." It features several bilingual programs, including a reality show with Mexican pop singer Jenni Rivera.
"We do a show about her life, and it takes place in Long Beach," Hernandez explains. "And it's in English, because she and her family, that's how they roll. And they speak English at home. So the show will have English and a little Spanglish. But it's really authentic."
In one show last season, Rivera operates a taco truck.
"I am a hard-working Mexican-American woman who can make excellent records and excellent tacos," she told viewers.
Now, the two Hispanic broadcast networks, Telemundo and Univision are getting a new competitor. Fox — which already operates three Hispanic cable channels — this fall plans to launch MundoFox, a Spanish-language broadcast network.
The network, which is working now to sign up station affiliates, will draw programming from some of Fox's Spanish-language cable channels. But Hernan Lopez, CEO of Fox International Channels, says he expects the new network's strongest draw will be action dramas — shows that he thinks will have broader appeal than traditional telenovelas.
"We were presenting it as a Latino network with an American attitude," Lopez says. "It is in Spanish, but with a level of quality that viewers are used to in American television."
Lopez says the network may be including English closed-captioning on some programs.
Advertising executive Roberto Orci says it wasn't that long ago that many in the industry thought the future of Hispanic television was limited. As immigrants settled in, it was supposed, they'd assimilate. And over a generation or two, Latinos would leave Hispanic programming for the mainstream media.
But rather than assimilating, Orci says, U.S. Hispanics have acculturated.
"Which means we take the best of American culture that we came to adopt and love," Orci says, "and we keep the best of our culture that we value. And so, you have this hybrid American that is very proud and happy to be an American, but is very proud and happy to have his culture which makes him unique, or her unique."
And the competition for that rapidly growing Hispanic bicultural market is happening not just in television, but also in radio and social media, and on the Web and mobile platforms. For media companies looking to grow, Hispanics now look less like a niche market, and more like the future.