Film and TV

Univision Wins Primetime Ratings War in Houston and Other Major Cities

For several years, Spanish-language network Univision has been making inroads in the ratings wars with the big four networks, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. In 2013, it notched its first real ratings win by posting the highest marks in key demographics during the summer months. While impressive, summer is not exactly a coup considering the lack of major primetime sports, awards shows and, most importantly, new network programming.

But, on Tuesday, the network announced it had topped the ratings for the November sweeps in three media markets including Houston. That includes having the most highly rated early newscast in the country among 18-49 year olds, the coveted demographic for television networks.

That newscast was in Los Angeles, where it beat out the four three-letter networks like it did in Houston and Dallas. But those victories extended into primetime.

According to a release, Univision grabbed the top spot in adults ages 18-49 and 18-34 in the three cities and even ranked number one in all viewers including children and seniors in Houston and Miami. It's not surprising that another broadcast television entity is beginning to erode the viewership held for so long by the major networks, but it probably comes as a shock to many that the network edging them out isn't in English.

Not only does it speak to the large numbers of Spanish speakers in America, but to the wide array of programming offered by Univision. From soccer, which is rapidly growing in popularity among television spectators, to constantly changing programming, they have more than found an audience.

Univision still trails the big four in sheer volume. Ratings in this case are based on the percentage of time Neilsen raters were tuned into the network. ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC still lead in total viewers, but the margin is not nearly as great as it once was.

What this underscores is the fact that Spanish-speaking entertainment is no longer a niche market, particularly in areas with large Latino populations like Houston, Los Angeles and Miami. Music artists like Romeo Santos, Pitbull and Prince Royce have platinum selling albums and huge touring grosses despite getting no airplay on pop radio and being virtually unknown to audiences outside Hispanic communities. Most anglos won't even recognize the names of some of Latin music's biggest stars.

Univision has capitalized on the emerging market of Latinos who they can reach through a completely different language, a trait that makes them as unique as they are separate. Major networks have been slow to embrace Latinos in television series, but it is clear from the appeal of shows with major Latin stars like Modern Family that they are beginning to recognize a new audience.

At the helm of Univision's recent success is Randy Falco, the former AOL and NBC exec, who has helped generate tremendous growth for the network. As the man behind the NBC-Universal merger and Today's "Window on the World" set, he is no stranger to improving television network performance. Much of his expansion of the network has centered around news coverage, something woefully lacking among Spanish language alternatives.

With non-Hispanics still making up the majority of Americans, it is unlikely Univision will become part of a big five networks, but there is no question their success is putting other networks and cable outlets on notice that Latino viewers are going to be a major player in the programming over the next decade.

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke