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Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Media See Growing Market In Spanish

By Heather Landy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

August 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 KRTBN Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. All rights reserved. 

Aug. 3--If media executives had any doubts about their next big avenue for growth, the latest Census data helped point the way. The Hispanic population rose 58 percent nationwide during the 1990s, sparking a race to lure Hispanic viewers, readers and listeners with Spanish-language offerings.

In North Texas, where the Hispanic population more than doubled from 1990 to 2000, the demand for culturally relevant news and entertainment has continued to grow.

John Martinez, publisher of the Fort Worth Spanish-language weekly La Semana, said gross sales at his newspaper are up 40 percent this year. KLNO/94.1 FM is among the area's most popular radio stations, thanks to its regional Mexican format. And Spanish-language television giant Univision is widening its appeal with Telefuturo, a sister network launched in early 2002.

Newspapers also are trying to capitalize on the growing market.

Beginning Sept. 2, the Star-Telegram will expand publication of its Spanish-language paper, La Estrella, taking it to five days a week from two days and adding separate sections for sports, features and classified advertisements. The paper will be renamed Diario La Estrella, or The Daily Star. Later in September, the Dallas Morning News will launch a Spanish-language daily, Al Dia, or Up to Date.

For 20-year-old Gabriela Villalobos, born to Mexican parents and raised in Texas, the media's increased involvement in Spanish-language information gives her more options than ever to stay connected to her culture.

"A lot more [Spanish-language] Web sites have been popping up, and the radio station I listen to is pretty new," said Villalobos, a fan of Spanish MTV, Univision 23, the Yahoo Mexico Web site and the Spanish top-40 station KTCY-FM. The number of offerings "has been exploding," she said.

Mainstream media outlets also are getting into the game. General Electric's NBC network acquired Spanish-language network Telemundo last year for $2.7 billion. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, through his investment fund and charity, recently took a 7 percent stake in Grupo Televisa, a Mexico-based broadcaster that sells programs to networks across North and South America.

Driving much of the media frenzy is the growth in Hispanic advertising, which has expanded by 17 percent annually during the past five years, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

"When you see an NBC coming in and buying Telemundo, they didn't buy it just to say they now have a Latino property -- they obviously see an incredible business opportunity," said Victor Ornelas, president and chief executive of the Dallas advertising firm Ornelas & Associates.

Ornelas has worked on campaigns for Nissan and Anheuser-Busch, translating them for Spanish speakers in terms of both language and cultural significance. He points to an ad for Nissan's Xterra sport utility vehicle as an example: The mainstream version shows extreme skiers on a snowy mountain; the Spanish-language version features a driver heading to the beach and then, like an Acapulco cliff diver, jumping into the water. The image is different, but the message is the same, Ornelas said.

Hispanics' preference for Spanish-language fare is expected to continue, even as new immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America become more entrenched in the United States.

According to the 2000 Census, 28 million U.S. residents age 5 and over speak Spanish at home, with slightly more than half also fluent in English. The 1990 Census counted just 17 million Spanish speakers. In Texas, 27 percent of residents age 5 and older speak Spanish at home, the latest figures show. Only New Mexico, at 29 percent, had a higher statewide rate.

Television industry trends reflect the demographic data. Univision, by far the largest Spanish-language television network, said that from 1998 to 2002 it had the best prime-time ratings among Hispanics ages 18 to 49, topping ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

During that time, Univision's revenue jumped from $577 million to $1.1 billion, and earnings at the Los Angeles-based broadcaster soared from 4 cents a share to 34 cents.

Univision is trying to win regulatory approval for a $2.9 billion acquisition of Hispanic Broadcasting, a Dallas-based radio company that ended 2002 with 46 stations, including seven in Fort Worth-Dallas.

As Univision solidifies its dominance among Hispanic viewers, a new Spanish-language digital cable network is gathering steam.

Sorpresa, Spanish for "surprise," is a children's network launched in March by Firestone Communications, which acquired the assets of bankrupt Hispanic Television Network of Haltom City. The new network, not yet available in the Metroplex, has carriage agreements with companies including Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

Firestone Chairman and Chief Executive Leonard Firestone said the network is one of the few to cater to Hispanic children, many of whom are encouraged by their parents to speak in both Spanish and English.

With bilingualism becoming more common, media outlets and advertisers must remember that Hispanic consumers are watching them in both languages, said Roberto Orci, president of M3 Alliance Consulting, which specializes in the Hispanic market.

"Among Hispanics, 86 percent watch television in Spanish, and 83 percent watch television in English," Orci said. "Hispanics don't just choose between Telemundo and Univision. They choose between Telemundo, Univision, NBC and ABC."

There are growing choices in print as well. In addition to La Estrella, Metroplex residents have their choice of Spanish-language weeklies including La Semana, El Heraldo News and El Hispano. The publisher of La Semana said pitching to advertisers is much easier now than when the paper began in 1995.

"Now they return your calls -- they want to do business with you," said Martinez, who also publishes a Spanish-language homes magazine and has plans to start an auto magazine in the next three months.

Martinez said he suspects the introduction of Al Dia and Diario La Estrella will help open even more doors. Advertisers will "all of a sudden realize that if there's a daily out there, there's a reason for it," he said.

Several locally based advertisers already have taken notice.

"Our advertising budget for Hispanic marketing is already up considerably this year over last year, and that's both in print and electronic media," RadioShack Chief Executive Len Roberts said. "I think it's a hot area."

The Fort Worth-based electronics chain hired actor Lou Diamond Phillips and singer-actress Daniela Lujan to star in new ads for markets including Texas, California, Florida and Puerto Rico.

RadioShack also is a co-sponsor of MLS Futbolito, a Major League Soccer program bringing four-on-four soccer tournaments to 10 U.S. cities in an effort to reach out to Hispanic fans.

J.C. Penney is a frequent advertiser on networks including Univision and Telemundo, where it translates the slogan "It's All Inside" into Spanish. The Plano-based retailer's busiest store is in Puerto Rico, and the company tries to hire bilingual employees in markets with large Hispanic populations.

"It's important that our customers see themselves reflected in our ads and in our stores," said Manny Fernandez, manager of multicultural and specialty marketing at J.C. Penney.

Despite the eagerness of some advertisers and the growth statistics for the Hispanic population, Spanish-language media companies have not been able to fully insulate themselves from the sluggish advertising environment that has hurt mass-market media outlets in the slow economy.

"The effects of war and the economy always affect advertising, and we have felt some softness too," said Becky Munoz-Diaz, general manager for Univision KUVN 23 and Telefutura KSTR 49 in Dallas.

"We're still having growth but not at the level we were accustomed to prior to this season."

Advertisers spent nearly $2 billion last year to place ads on Spanish-language television, a 10 percent increase from 2001, according to Nielsen Media Research. The growth was the fastest among categories measured in the survey, including mainstream network and cable television, network radio, national magazines, and national and local newspapers.

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