April 10, 2009

Univision sets lofty Sunday goals

By Patrick Gavin

Could it be that, when it comes to political talk shows, the new slogan will be, “If it’s Sunday, it’s Univision”?

In the eyes of the Spanish-language network, it’s a sure thing.

“I have no doubt that eventually we will be beating” all other Sunday talk shows, Univision’s Jorge Ramos tells POLITICO. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Ramos joined Univision in 1985, and one of his duties is to host its Sunday political program, “Al Punto” (“To The Point”), which the network says draws 1.1 million viewers each week.

“Latinos will become, eventually, the majority in this country,” said Ramos, noting that they currently represent 14 percent of the U.S. population. “This is becoming a bilingual country. ... And Univision is not an ethnic media. Univision is mainstream media, but the only difference is that we broadcast in Spanish.”

Although it hasn’t enjoyed some of the luster and prestige of other television outlets, the 48-year-old network, headquartered in New York City, has been enjoying somewhat of a surge in its status lately.

Univision sponsored three debates during the 2008 presidential election. President Barack Obama called on Univision’s Lourdes Meluza during his March 24 press conference. And, on March 26, Obama recorded a message to be played at the Univision Awards Show.

“Many people thought that we were the sleeping giant many decades ago,” said Ramos. “Well, the giant has awoken.”

In truth, Univision’s success isn’t really news. Its Los Angeles station, KMEX, is the No. 1 station in the country in the coveted 18-49 demographic, and Ramos boasts that Spanish-language newscasts are frequently the most watched in many markets around the country, including Miami, Houston Chicago and New York City.

“There’s a new balance of power in the media,” said Ramos. “It’s not just by chance or by coincidence that President Obama called on our White House correspondent in the last press conference over the reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Time or Newsweek.

Nobody would have thought two or three decades ago that Univision would not only be challenging but beating the four major networks. And that’s exactly what is happening right now. Not only are we more powerfully politically, but also our reach has gone further than we ever thought possible.”

And, for politicians, the increasing prominence and population of Hispanics in the United States, coupled with Univision’s ratings successes, means that it can no longer be ignored.

“We are covering Washington more than ever before,” said Ramos. “No one can make it to the White House without talking to Univision or to the Spanish language media. Bob Dole decided not to talk to us in 1996, and I think that was a huge mistake. Obviously he lost. ... And, for congressmen, either they learn about what’s going on with the Hispanic community or they learn it the hard way. They’ll lose their politician positions. ... If they do not realize that their districts are being transformed completely because of the Hispanic population, the growth of the Hispanic population, they simply lose their jobs. It’s that simple.”

Ramos thinks that Republicans especially need to pay attention to Univision and Hispanics. “If they do not make a concentrated effort to get the Hispanic vote, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get the White House back.”

But politicians aren’t the only ones who stand to suffer by ignoring Hispanics. “Of course, other networks are losing viewers because they’re not paying attention to Hispanic viewers and they’re not paying attention to Latin American news.”

The English-language networks reject the notion that they’re ignoring Hispanics.

“News that affects and is of interest to Hispanic American viewers is a priority at NBC News,” says an NBC spokesman. “In fact, last month ‘Nightly News’ did a week-long series ‘We the People’ about the issues affecting Hispanic Americans that not only made the broadcast the No. 1 evening newscast among Hispanic viewers, but was extremely well received within the community.”

The spokesman said NBC News President Steve Capus and Nightly News anchor Brian Williams recently hosted a discussion with leaders of the Hispanic community about how our NBC covers news that’s important to them.

As for Univision, “We’re doing something right,” said Ramos. “It’s clear from our ratings, and it’s only going to get better.”

Reprinted from POLITICO (www.politico.com)

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