Rise of Spanish Language Media

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ASU Associate Professor Craig Allen from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication talks about the history, rise, and influence of Spanish language media.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm José Cárdenas. An ASU professor says the most dramatic development in American mass media is not myspace, facebook, blogging, or the social media. It's the rise of Spanish language television. With me to talk about his research on this topic is Craig Allen, ASU associate professor at the Walter Cronkite school of journalism and mass communication. Professor, welcome to "Horizonte."

Craig Allen: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

Jose Cardenas: That's a pretty bold statement in terms of what the most surprising thing is because we've been deluged with movies and news pieces about facebook, twitter, especially given the unrest in the -- Egypt and so forth, other countries there. What's the basis for such an assertion?

Craig Allen: Well, the reason why it's a surprise is because the people deluged with that don't know anything about Spanish television. I didn't know hardly anything about it until I began studying it four years ago. Obviously, I'm not Hispanic, I didn't really have personal background or contact growing up watching Spanish television.

Jose Cardenas: Why the interest? Why did you decide to make it an area of study for yourself?

Craig Allen: Well because of what you're edging into. The greatest best-kept see yet in America mass media today. Nobody is really paying attention to Spanish television except for the people close to it. But back to what you were -- the basis for the assertion, for one thing, myspace, facebook blogging aren't really mass media. You've got a function that's fragmented 100 million ways. It's hard to classify that as a real mass media. But the real thing is with Spanish television and one institution, one very special institution, in particular, 20, 25, 30, sometimes 40 million viewers every night, that's a phenomenon worth looking at.

Jose Cardenas: How does that compare to the other major networks and you're talking about one particular Spanish media. Univision, right?

Craig Allen: Right. It's probably good for the folks to know, as I write the history of Spanish television, it's essentially the history of Univision, the Hercules of Spanish TV. How it compares, it's a sensation, a phenomenon. I, myself, being an Anglo and having grown up being exposed to the alphabet networks of English TV and actually working in English TV and accustomed to the fact that English media dominated -- dominates, it's a big surprise to find out what you're talking about, Univision is on a rocket ride while the English networks are collapsing. Their audiences are getting smaller and smaller through fragmentation and other functions whereas while Univision continues to grow. In the old Marshall McEwen sense of the global village.

Jose Cardenas: When we talk about growth, are we saying it's got a bigger share of a shrinking market or actually bigger than the major networks were in their prime?

Craig Allen: The amazing thing is, Univision has a bigger share of a growing market. The Spanish-speaking population in this country is burgeoning. The census figuring came out, 70 million Spanish speaking individuals. That's close to a 50% increase over the previous census. And Univision has got that group wired. So it's not only getting high ratings, it's getting them at an ever increasing audience. The big event, the big outcome of this and what this is pointing to is over the next five to seven years, you're going to see Univision, not only the largest Spanish mass media, it will be America's largest mass media in any language and by extension, the most pervasive form of communication in the country.

Jose Cardenas: Now that seems counterintuitive in that most of the data show that Hispanics assimilate at the same rate as other immigrant groups have. Acquire by the second generation, predominantly English speaking and the immigrant population are at a minimum, stabilizing. And maybe going down, how can this be? And even if it is right now, is it sustainable?

Craig Allen: Actually, it's going up. If you look at the research, the proportion of Spanish speakers in the country and particularly the ones that watch TV, the ones I'm looking at, actually have increased but the notion, the concern about a culturization goes back to the very conversation about Spanish television 50 years ago and there's always been that fear and concern that people will stop speaking Spanish and start speaking English. After 50 years, it's never happened. But a further aspect of that, I think a lot of people are aware that the Spanish population is growing. But what a lot of people don't know, it's -- it's a youthful, a very youthful oriented skewed population. Two-thirds of Hispanics are under the age of 34. So you take these -- the tendency to want to continue to speak Spanish and add that to this group that's essentially young and you've got a lot of Spanish speaking way down the line in the future.

Jose Cardenas: Is there something about the Univision programming -- and I want to talk about their news programming, but otherwise, that make it particularly attractive to the audiences it reaches?

Craig Allen: Well, the characteristic of Univision's programming that makes it so big, the one -- I think everybody is familiar with the network talks about and borne out in the research, the novellas that they show.

Jose Cardenas: The Spanish language soap operas.

Craig Allen: Which in Spanish TV appear in prime time. This is prime time television. It's not Days of our Lives but the biggest shows on prime time. They get those productions there an entity in Mexico called teleVISA. The world's greatest producer of programming. A lot of people really don't understand Mexico in that way but it is the world's greatest exporter of television and the programs, the novellas that they produce, they go into 150 countries. Those programs were the first programs seen behind the iron curtain after the fall of communism. People coming out of communism, those were the programs they wanted. Univision has those. They have a contract recently renewed that continues those blockbuster shows until 2025. And I can't say personally, I have an affinity for that. I didn't grow up watching novellas, but every person I have talked to that has, regales, lavishes those programs and I've got to believe they're the most potent programs on television anywhere in the world.

Jose Cardenas: You touched on the entertainment aspects to it and that's one of the reasons for Univision's success isn't it? It's based in Miami but partners throughout the world?

Craig Allen: Partners throughout the world. Again, teleVISA is the biggest television enterprise in the western hemisphere. There's no American institution --

Jose Cardenas: Are they a major investor in Univision?

Craig Allen: They used to be, it's an interesting part of the history of the relationship. But actually teleVISA was the founder of Univision, predecessor network called Spanish international network. But they are closely linked. TeleVisa is the parent of American Spanish television. But down the road, they got away from the Mexican and became more of the unified Hispanic network that they are today. Appealing to all nationalities and teleVISA has led them to that and as a result it's really a worldwide family of television in the Spanish language.

Jose Cardenas: Now, I want to talk about some more history of Spanish language television, but before we do that-- the network news, Jorge Ramos anchors Univision's nightly network news what--he's kind of a rock star.

Craig Allen: He's kind of a rock star and I think to a lot of people, so is his co-anchor, you know I never want to leave her out Maria Helena Selinas. Both of those individuals have helped me so much, they've been darling sources. But anyway, they coanchored and have been since 1987. They really are journalists that need to come to the forefront of acknowledgment of all journalists.

Jose Cardenas: With some major interviews with major figures. Castro. Mexican presidents.

Craig Allen: Right and in the case of Jose Ramos's case -- it used to be and he'll tell you this story, they had to beg leading politicians for interviews. Now those politicians are coming to him-- they're coming to him to be on his --

Jose Cardenas: Including American politicians. President Obama when he was running.

Craig Allen: Down the line, yeah, absolutely.

Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, in a number of major markets, Univision is the leading news program.

Craig Allen: Well it's been that in Phoenix for I don't know how long, but to put this in perspective, just how immense Univision's news is, I like to ask people who -- what -- what news anchors have been on network news the longest and most people will give you the name of a English person, like Walter Cronkite. But the fact is that Jorge Ramos, has been anchoring the network news now for more than 25 years. He's by far the Senior Network-- the longest tenured network news anchor of all time. But the other thing is there's an audience of about close to 25 million every night. That is more viewers, more people watch Univisions--each night than ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN FOX News Channel, MS-NBC and all the rest put together. That one Spanish network has more news viewers than any other institution in the country.

Jose Cardenas: And there are a number of other surprises that you ran into and that I think the--the general public would be surprised here, one of them being the technological advancements which you're actually spearheaded-- Spanish Language television.

Craig Allen: Right, this is part of the legacy I think you would say of this field. There's been a lot of black eyes - they've had a lot of problems in different things. They've struggled. It's -- it's really a rags to riches story. Not all perfect. But there's no question that many of the historical mime stones we associate with television came out of Spanish TV. The biggest of all was satellites. Univision was the second network to be telecast on satellite this station that we're at right now, actually emulates the achievement that Univision pulled off. The one network that was on before Univision was HBO. Which was a paid -- Univision was the first broadcast network to use satellite communication, almost 10 years before NBC and CBS and ABC did that. They also pioneered news gathering techniques technology, a lot of these things they did was because they didn't have the money to do something else. They invented a cheaper way to do things and it ended up being the trend-setting thing and news technology, electronic news gathering was one of those things. They've also had accomplishments on the other side of the slate. There was a case involving this Mexican influence that we've been talking about, was so serious at one point that the FCC went in and broke up the predecessor and an interesting aspect of the story, but it was the first -- the predecessor to Univision was the first network ever ruled out of existence by the federal government, by The FCC. So they've had a lot of achievement, both good and bad.

Jose Cardenas: And I know you're working on a book that covers that and a lot of other surprises for us and so hopefully we'll have you back when the book is out.

Craig Allen: I would love to come back, José and talk more about it.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you so much for joining you us.

Craig Allen:ASU Associate Professor,Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication;

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