In the western reaches of Miami-Dade County, the two powerhouses of American Hispanic TV have been working at full swing since dawn.
At the Univision studios in Doral, the five hosts of Despierta América (Wake Up America ) are throwing their daily four-hour party. The show kicks off at 7 a.m., defying drowsiness with raucous skits, musical performances and celebrity guests. The format is increasingly popular; the show’s audience — almost 900,000 viewers — grew 22 percent from last season to the current one, according to ratings company Nielsen.
This studio is also home to two other live Univision blockbusters. In the evenings, veteran variety show El Gordo y la Flaca (The Fat Guy and The Skinny Lady) plays to an average of 1.4 million viewers. Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday), the longest-running TV show in any language dating from 1962 —is followed by 2.2 million people.
Three miles away, at the Hialeah studios of Telemundo, telenovelas are the stars. Dozens of extras wait in line to take part in a restaurant scene for Marido en Alquiler (Husband for Hire), while Mexican celebrity actress Ana Layevska is spotted on her way to the stage of Dama y Obrero (Lady and Worker).
Telemundo Media executives like to call this 175,000 square foot facility with five stages the “Hispanic Hollywood.” In 2005, the network, owned by NBC, made the decision to produce its own prime-time soap operas instead of buying them from third parties. That strategy, too, is paying off. In the 2012-13 season, Telemundo audience increased 9 percent vs. the 2011-2012 season, averaging more than 1.3 million viewers during primetime programming, according to Nielsen.
Since the 1980s, the two networks — based in Miami — have been the dominant players in U.S.-based Spanish-language broadcast, battling for the top positions (currently held by Univision.) And with the U.S. Hispanic population projected to double from 53.3 million in 2012 to 128.8 million in 2060, or one-in-three Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, advertising revenue is expected to far exceed the $6.3 billion currently spent on advertising to Hispanics.
The predicted burst has kicked up the stakes, pushing players like Time Warner and News Corp into the field with the introduction, respectively, of CNN Latino and MundoFox. Meanwhile, Univision and Telemundo have refocused their strategies to be sure they retain — and even grow — their market share.
Both stalwart networks will continue to rely on telenovelas and live variety shows as programming staples. But the two networks are aiming at different targets in one key aspect: language.
Late this year, Univision plans to launch Fusion, a news and lifestyle cable network aimed at English-dominant Hispanics. The new channel is the result of a multimillion-dollar joint venture with ABC, the Disney-owned broadcaster, and will be headquartered in Doral.
Telemundo, owned by NBC Universal, plans to focus its efforts on the Spanish-speaking world, both in the U.S. and countries to the south.
Driving both decisions are demographic shifts and consumer habits.
Trends and habits
At first glance, Univision’s strategy seems to fly in the face of recent trends. Advertising spending on Spanish-language TV increased 13.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013, its seventh consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, according to Kantar Media, the leading provider of strategic advertising information. By contrast, spending in English-language TV networks declined 5.2 percent, the result of weaker ratings.