Univision (in Spanish, Univisión), the largest Spanish language television network in the United States with more than 600 affiliates, has historical roots in Mexican broadcasting. Since 1992, Univision has been owned by a consortium headed by Jerry Perenchino, an entertainment financier who once owned a New Jersey Spanish language television station. Twenty-five% of the network is owned by Venevision, a Venezuelan media company, another 25% by the Mexican entertainment conglomerate, Televisa, the largest producer of Spanish language television programming in the world.

This structural configuration is often viewed as but a marginal variation in Televisa's long-standing domination of U.S. Spanish language television. The majority of Univision programming is produced in Mexico, by Televisa, as it has been since the first Spanish language television stations were established in the United States in 1961. The network was then called SIN, the Spanish International Network. In 1986 the FCC found SIN to be in violation of the U.S. law that prohibits foreign ownership of U.S. broadcast stations. Televisa was ordered to divest itself of its U.S. subsidiary and SIN was sold to Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri, and renamed Univision.

Under Hallmark ownership, about half of Univision programming was Televisa rebroadcasts (telenovelas or soap operas, sports, movies and variety programming), and half was produced in the United States. The U.S. produced programming, which included a telenovela, a situation comedy and greatly expanded national U.S. news and public affairs programming, proved popular with U.S. Latino audiences. Nonetheless, between 1986 and 1992, Hallmark, which had financed its purchase of the Spanish language network with junk bonds, was unable to recover its initial investment in Univision. In 1992 Hallmark sold the network to the Perenchino group, which prominently featured Televisa. Among the new owners' first moves was the firing of about a third of the network's Miami based staff. This resulted in the cancellation of most of the U.S. produced programs, and the recreation of a broadcast day largely comprised of Televisa programs.

Univision has been at the forefront of the creation of a national "Hispanic Market," the notion that U.S. Latinos are an attractive, commercially viable market segment, and so an audience that advertisers should attempt to reach. Previous to the mid-1980s the Hispanic population was configured as three markets: Puerto Rican in the eastern United States, Cuban in south Florida and Mexican in the southwest. Advertising agencies, accordingly, produced three separate Spanish language advertising campaigns. Univision's extensive market and audience research persuaded Madison Avenue that these three audiences should be considered one national audience. This effort was given a major boost by the Hispanic Nielsen Survey, a specially designed methodology for measuring U.S. Spanish language television audiences, commissioned by Univision and Telemundo, and implemented by the A.C. Nielsen company in the early 1990s. This new audience measurement system found a U.S. Spanish language television audience 30 to 40% larger than had previously been identified.

Network research conducted by Univision shows that most of its audience are recent Latin American immigrants. Another group is made up of those who have lived in the United States for years, who, because of a myriad of factors, prefer to view television in the Spanish language. Most of these immigrant audience members are from Mexico, though an increasing proportion are Central American. A smaller portion of the Univision audience are more acculturated, bilingual U.S. Latinos, a generally wealthier group much sought after by network planners. Overall, Univision research shows that about 70% of the Univision audience is Mexican or Mexican American, 10% each Puerto Rican and Cuban-American, with the remainder from other Latin American countries.

The most watched Univision programs are Televisa telenovelas, serialized melodramas which, in contrast to U.S. soap operas, usually end after two or three months. Also, notably present in the Univision top ten (at number 6) is the nightly U.S. national newscast, the Noticiero Univisión. Apparently the Univision immigrant audience, while maintaining its links to "the old country" through the traditional telenovelas, is also seeking out knowledge of its adopted U.S. home. Each year the U.S. Spanish speaking audience has more television programs to choose amongst. Telemundo, another U.S. Spanish language television network founded in 1986, has grown to several hundred affiliates. Galavision and Showtime en Espanol, two premium cable channels, as well as several regional Spanish language cable networks, including Spanish language ESPN and MTV, are challenging Univision's previously uncontested hold on U.S. Spanish language television.

-America Rodriguez


Courtesy of Univision


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See also Telemundo; Telenovela