Univision Translates Ratings Into Cash

The Nielsen ratings company no longer measures Spanish language audiences separately from the general market. Univision has been regularly beating the four major networks in some prime-time slots and during newscasts. Has Univision has been able to convert its comparatively high ratings into ad dollars?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Television stations are preparing for the November sweeps weeks. Those are the days when TV stations and networks compete most intently for the best ratings. And one station in Los Angeles hopes to repeat its performance from last spring. KMEX, channel 34, was the most watched local station in the country, and it broadcasts in Spanish. The channel is owned by the network Univision. Its audience is growing as other networks decline. And NPR's Felix Contreras reports that Univision is trying to convert viewers into advertising dollars.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Let's say it's Thursday night and you're in the mood for high melodrama.

(Soundbite of telenovela "Fuego en la Sangre")

CONTRERAS: There's death and despair on Univision's popular telenovela "Fuego en la Sangre." While on ABC...

(Soundbite of TV show "Grey's Anatomy")

Unidentified Actor: It means he could be dying. And he doesn't know you give a...

CONTRERAS: "Grey's Anatomy" is serving up impending death and regret.

(Soundbite of TV show "Grey's Anatomy")

Unidentified Actor: He's dying, and you're gonna be too late.

CONTRERAS: According to Nielsen Media Research, in Los Angeles there are more TVs tuned to "Fuego en la Sangre" than "Grey's Anatomy." In fact, in other markets with significant Hispanic populations, Univision has regularly been attracting more viewers than the affiliates of the big three. That's ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Ms. ISABELLA SANCHEZ (Senior Vice President, Tapestry Partners): Hispanics will make it a point to get home on time to watch their primetime show, and they do not miss it.

CONTRERAS: Isabella Sanchez is senior vice president of Tapestry Partners, a multicultural media buying firm. She points out that Univision's ratings increases are due partly to a growing Latino population, but also to the fact that just over a year ago Nielsen started including Spanish language programs with all other programming. As a result, in Los Angeles and New York, for example, many of the top ten primetime shows are often in Spanish. And Univision's local newscasts are number one in those markets.

Ms. SANCHEZ: We're finally able to look at the delivery of the Spanish language TV programs and how they deliver nationally in the U.S., regardless of language.

CONTRERAS: Media buyers can now use those numbers to attract advertisers who had doubts about the size and the buying power of the Hispanic audience. Yet the network's advertising rates are still slightly lower than the general market. But Univision represents access not only to the number one Spanish language broadcast network, but also the dominant cable TV network, more than a dozen of the top radio stations in the country, and the number one Spanish language Web site.

Ms. SANCHEZ: While other companies have multiplatform offerings, not to the degree of such a dominant number one position, which is a great success story for Univision and for advertisers who take advantage of all those...

CONTRERAS: More bank for your buck.

Ms. SANCHEZ: Absolutely.

CONTRERAS: And that could carry Univision through this troubled economy. Media companies across the board are forecasting dire advertising sales in the immediate future, but not Univision, says Alan Albarran, the director of the Center for Spanish Language Media at the University of North Texas.

Dr. ALAN ALBARRAN (Director, Center for Spanish Language Media, University of North Texas): Univision is no question in the best position to weather this storm. And if you're an advertiser and you want to reach the Spanish language market, Univision is still your best vehicle to place. It's just your number of ad dollars may be reduced or they may be cut back in terms of what you normally like to invest if the market was at its full strength.

CONTRERAS: Latinos account for over 50 percent of the population growth here in the U.S. Univision's telenovelas and its other programming continue to be the best entry point to a market that's only getting bigger and bigger. Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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