Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just the big dogs: Clean Channel, Univision and Telemundo

The role of Spanish-language radio continues to change each day, especially with the increasing influence of television, but, as has been seen over the past, new media shake up the industry, but rarely completely replace former outlets. In the age of the Internet, we still read newspapers, watch television and listen to radio, although we may use each medium differently.

Meanwhile, the Spanish-language media industry is becoming concentrated in fewer hands each year. At the start of 2005, Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations and advertising space in the U.S., announced plans to change 20 to 25 of its stations from an English-language to a Spanish-language format. Spanish-language media giant Univisión moved from television into radio years ago and has been the industry leader since 2002, when it merged with Hispanic Broadcasting Company, of which Clear Channel owns 26 percent. As Univisión described the $3.5 billion merger in its press release: “Combined company will own 50 television and 55 radio Stations in top Hispanic markets, will add #1 Spanish-language radio broadcaster to #1 Spanish-language TV Network, #1 Spanish-language cable network, #1 Spanish-language TV station group, #1 Spanish-language online portal and #1 Latin record label in the U.S.”

Where radio has been largely regional, U.S. Spanish-language television is concentrated in the hands of giants Univisión and Telemundo and must appeal to a nation-wide audience with most of its programming, even if there are local newscasts in most cities. It is no easy task to please at the same time and equally rural-dwelling Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, Cuban exiles in Florida, and Puerto Ricans from the barrios of New York. Media outlets hoping to have wide appeal must search for commonalities between very diverse Spanish-speakers, broadcasting a sort of pan-ethnicity, actively creating a “Latino” market beyond national identifications.

Imported programming from Latin American countries is increasingly not meeting the needs of American Latinos. Univisiòn produces its own national news broadcast. A break down of the news program topics showed 43.3 percent treating Latin America, 28.4 percent on the U.S. and 14.5 percent on topics specific to U.S. Latinos (the rest was international news or miscellaneous). Even juicy telenovelas, the long-time staple of Spanish-language stations, are now being produced here for the first time. Telemundo hopes their telenovela featuring U.S. Latinos will draw viewers away from Univisión.

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