Community Editorial: What Univision Needs Is More Color

Univision
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I’ve never understood Univisión, but now more than ever, I definitely want to try.

At first it was because of youth, and I lived in an English-dominant exterior and preferred the neighbor’s MTV. Then it was because anchors Jorge Ramos’ eyes were too blue and Maria Elena Salinas’ hair was too blonde.

In college, the Afro-Peruvian rapper Immortal Technique posed the following in a track called “Leaving the Past”:

You see the Spaniards never left después de Colón / And if you don’t believe me, you can click on Univisión / I’ve never seen so much racism in all of my life / Every program and newscast, all of them white./ It’s like apartheid with 10 percent ruling the rest. / A type of stress that makes me put the [tool] in your chest.

In my rebellious years, I questioned why I would watch when there weren’t any campechanos on Univisión?

Then, once I began to write for Poder Hispanic Magazine in late 2010, I came across an entirely different side of the Univisión business, and my ears and eyes began to focus. As Jorge Ramos repeatedly berated the elite in favor of the Dreamers, I began to question the power of the niche, given 50 years of history. I also stopped seeing them as deaf, dumb and blind at the street level.

Even Jorge and Maria Elena were not oblivious to what they told Bill Moyers recently: “Our [children] don’t watch Univisión because they feel more comfortable in English. Their friends don’t watch us. Either we change or we are going to be out of here.”

The potential of Univisión was becoming real to me. I was beginning to feel the elusive quest for equality so near. Then came the announcement of the political debates in the summer of 2012.

Tavis Smiley, a long-standing broadcaster, redacts the problem passionately in a question he posed recently to Dan Rather:

One of the things that has never changed in the news industry is the issue of diversity. Four white individuals were chosen as news moderators for the national debates. In the most multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic America ever, indeed with an African-American sitting president, what say you about the fact that all these years later we still have not gotten to the place where journalists of color get the respect they deserve or are allowed to sit in an anchor chair to deliver the news?

Mr. Rather did not have an answer to this question, and back we went to the margins.

Univisión fought this issue furiously and went after the presidential candidates and asked why Jorge or Maria Elena were not asked to participate in the debates. Although neither is technically a journalist of color, both have been constant stewards of the Latino community for a long, long time. The press offices for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did not involve them in the debates but instead allowed Univisión to question them separately for short interviews during prime time.

It is probable that this reaction wasn’t really the coup they wanted, but it was something. It was a tiny step in the right direction, and it probably sold a lot of Pan Bimbo.

The Los Angeles Times wrote the following recently:

Univisión (via KMEX in Los Angeles) celebrated its 50th anniversary this week. It is still scrambling to keep up with the demand … as it has become one of the top-rated TV stations in the nation, making the flagship Univision Communications Inc. outlet a political powerhouse and the number one source for Spanish-language news and entertainment …

In all honesty, let’s ask ourselves what it means to be a political powerhouse on the fringes of the mainstream. In the same breath, Univisión claims to cultivate civic participation while distributing the most regressive of telenovelas and variety shows.

Is it possible to know whether Univisión executives are the ones that are holding us back from becoming a progressive mainstream factor in America, or are they truly the ones that have been feeding us the American dream in Spanish for the last 50 years?

A successful foundation executive thinks that 2012 is a watershed year for Latinos. She bases this opinion on the number of registered Latino voters. She says: “There are 21 million eligible Latino voters, and in the last election, 10 million voted. If we can get another million, that number could change the tide in the national election.”

Univisión knows this is crucial for our community as well. They have dedicated efforts in their programming to convince the American Latino to naturalize and register to vote. And the numbers have steadily increased over the last 50 years.

It is impossible not to give credit to Univisión for at least taking an interest in the cultivation of our social, economic, cultural and political capital. At this year’s Upfront to advertisers at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, Univisión executives claimed this power as the unique value proposition of the corporation.

This leaves us contemplating the next 50 years of our history as portrayed in the Spanish language media dominated by Univisión:

  • Could a dark-skinned campechano replace Jorge Ramos after completing 30 years as the anchor in 2016? Critics of this critique will claim that judging someone by the color of their skin or the color of their eyes is tantamount to reverse racism.
  • Will the influence of Univisión allow Dreamers a legitimate place in our society by 2016? Supporters of Univisión claim that the pressures of people like Jorge Ramos on Univisión have moved mountains for Dreamers in ways never seen in the decade of struggle for the undocumented.
  • Would the “political capital” of Univisión lend heft to the non-Spanish-speaking mayor of San Antonio, Júlian Castro, to be marketed for vice president in 2016 under a Hillary Clinton presidency?

Supporters of Júlian Castro claim that he doesn’t need to speak Spanish to reach the Latino voter base. Still, the mayor of San Antonio is not yet visible on the general-market networks regardless of how well he learned English at Harvard, and it is obvious to question how he will fare on a Spanish-language channel when he does not in fact speak Spanish.

Forbes estimates that Univisión grew 13.8 percent last year to revenues of $2.25 billion and total assets of $11.47 billion despite a negative profit of one-half billion. Whatever plays out in our multicultural society, Univisión will likely be a force. And besides, turning 50 is a great age to focus on your assets and eliminate your liabilities.

So I propose to Univisión the following: Produce programs that are more thoughtful and more representative and I will eagerly tune in and give you another pair of eyes and ears. Like Tupac Shakur once said, “Unification means more to us than it does to them.”

Community assessment: How can a Spanish-language network dominate 97% of the Spanish-language market in 2011, according to the Hollywood Reporter, record negative profit of one-half billion in 2011, according to Forbes, and according to the Pew Center face a population where 70% of their market won’t be speaking Spanish?

A senior network executive says, “The analogy is that the business model is standing on a rapidly melting iceberg.”

The question is posed to insiders:

Raúl Ramos y Sánchez is the author of the Class H Trilogy “América Libre,” “House Divided” and “Pancho Land.” He said the following:

Since the 2000 census identified the rapid growth of the U.S. Hispanic population, the marketing community, and “Hispanic marketing experts” in particular, have been touting this surge as a marketing bonanza. In truth, people labeled Hispanic are much more complex than the simplistic approaches developed to appeal to them. Even the most apparent common denominator, the Spanish language, is a red herring. So it is not surprising that most of these Hispanic marketing efforts have failed.

Lucía Matthews, CEO of Diálogo, a public relations firm that builds brands with Hispanic audiences:

As the Hispanic baby boom continues to grow in markets across the U.S. and immigration from Mexico dwindles, media properties have been jockeying to get in front of Hispanic audiences, and they’re doing it in English.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a majority of third-generation Hispanics can neither speak nor read Spanish well; about 70 percent describe themselves as English-dominant. If Univisión, the undisputed king of the Spanish-language market, plans to create an English-language news channel with ABC aimed toward US Hispanics, I would take note.

Their Spanish-language TV programming business is growing in the near term, but younger Hispanics prefer to be entertained and informed in English. I know of no major Hispanic public relations firms that are keeping to the old party line that Spanish is the language to reach U.S.-born Hispanics.

Raúl Fernando Rodríguez, CEO at AprendeNegocios.com, a business advisory:

Univisión dominates the landscape, but future generations will have many other programming options available to them, leaving the Univisión business model in jeopardy.

Take three recent case studies: Telemundo’s La Reina del Sur; El Mandril on the radio; Fox Deportes. All of which were major contenders in the Spanish-language market and all of which were once the core product offering of Univisión.

If I were to invest in a corporation with such a complicated financial history, I would like to understand the mobile, online and English language strategy for this network.

Sergio C. Muñoz is a Santa Ana-based artist and member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board who hosts a community radio program called The Academic & the Artist that goes out weekly as a cloudcast. The archive of his work is available at Intelatin.com.

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