TV, en Espanol
Spanish-language television — much of it produced in Miami — has become a battleground as the competitive landscape shifts toward streaming and on-demand viewing.
On a recent Wednesday morning inside a large studio at Telemundo’s Miami headquarters, Juan Ponce walks through the set of an upcoming dramedy series about an affluent Mexican couple. Filming is scheduled to start in several weeks, and carpenters are busy building a set to represent the couple’s fictional home. The plan is to make it look like something out of Architectural Digest, complete with arched doorways, crown molding, built-in bookshelves and designer wallpaper.
“This is where the magic begins,” Ponce says, stopping to admire the craftmanship. Ponce is senior vice president and general manager of Telemundo Streaming Studios, a new production house devoted to making original TV shows, movies and documentaries to be streamed to Hispanic audiences. The dramedy, the name of which has not yet been announced, will be in Spanish and feature actors from Latin America. It’s expected to run on Telemundo and then land on a major streaming platform.
Ponce says the show, with its high production value, is typical of what Telemundo is doing these days to appeal to Hispanic viewers.
“We’re now competing with all the content on Netflix and Hulu. It’s no longer just Telemundo and Univision. The consumer is seeing content on other platforms, so we have to raise the bar,” he says.
Indeed, Spanish-language television — much of it produced in Miami — has become a battleground as the competitive landscape shifts toward streaming and on-demand viewing, a trend that has only accelerated with the boom in binge-watching amid the pandemic. Over the past year, companies from Netflix and Hulu to Telemundo and Univision have beefed up their Spanish-language programming to attract a growing Hispanic market in the U.S. and abroad.
Telemundo Enterprises, a division of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, launched Telemundo Streaming Studios in May with more than 30 projects in development. The studio will produce Spanish-language shows for potential distribution on streaming platforms, including NBC-owned Peacock.
Last spring, several months after an investor group led by former Viacom CFO Wade Davis bought a majority stake in Univision from private-equity owners, the Spanish-language media company launched a streaming service called PrendeTV. To bolster its programming, Univision acquired the production assets of Mexican TV giant Televisa for $4.8 billion. “With Televisa, we’re sitting on the largest library of Spanish-language content in the world — 300,000 hours of content,” says Rafael Urbina-Quintero, who oversees Univision’s advertising-based, video-on-demand efforts in Miami. The company launched PrendeTV as a free, ad-based service and plans to add an ad-free, subscriber-based tier next year.
Miami-based Hemisphere Media Group paid $124 million earlier this year to buy out Lionsgate for sole ownership of Spanish-language streaming service Pantaya. In July, Hemisphere was said to be exploring its options, including a potential sale to another media company or a private equity firm. Pantaya, which describes its target audience as bicultural Hispanics whose preferred language is Spanish, has about 900,000 paying subscribers and expects that number to grow to nearly 3 million by the end of 2025.
Meanwhile, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video have invested significantly in Spanish-language content. Netflix, which has released more than 50 original titles made in Spain since 2015, is now expanding a production hub near Madrid. NBC’s new streaming service Peacock has a Latino section with thousands of hours of original Spanish-language programming. HBO Max recently launched in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Disney Plus, already a leader in family-friendly Spanish-language programming, is developing 70 shows in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.
To be sure, changing demographics make the push to diversify programming necessary. On the domestic front, more than 60 million Hispanics live in the U.S., representing nearly 19% of the total population. At $1.7 trillion, U.S. Hispanic buying power is larger than the GDP of Canada.
But the Hispanic streaming market is attractive for other reasons, as well. For one thing, streaming platforms and their content creators don’t have to worry about a technology gap: Studies show that U.S. Hispanics adopt technology at a faster rate than the total market and are more likely to already subscribe to at least one streaming service.
Also, the market is much bigger than the segment of Hispanics who only or mostly speak Spanish. According to a study by consumer research center Horowitz, nearly a third of English- dominant, highly acculturated Hispanics watch TV in Spanish at least occasionally.
And there’s always the chance that a Spanish-language show will cross over to the mainstream. A prime example is La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), a Spanish crime drama series featuring an all-Spanish cast. The series, produced by Madrid-based Vancouver Media for Netflix in 2017, quickly became the streaming giant’s most-watched non-English- language show worldwide. It has since been dubbed in English.
Diana Mejia-Jones, vice president of Spanish language development at Campanario Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based TV and digital content production company, says technology is enabling more shows in Spanish to cross over. “Between the internet and streaming, we’re no longer limited by borders. We can listen to dubbing or read subtitles. We just want to see good stories,” she says.
Campanario’s recent productions include Selena, a series on Netflix about the late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez. The title character is played by Mexican-American actress Christian Serratos, who switches between English and Spanish throughout the show. When it debuted last December, Selena reached the top 10 for viewership on Netflix in 23 countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Peru.
Mejia-Jones attributes much of the show’s success to global interest in its subject. “The music, her story — it’s a family drama that resonates with people regardless of culture,” she says.
Not a monolith
A major challenge for Telemundo will be to provide content that appeals to a broad swath of U.S. Hispanics. As the last presidential election made clear, Hispanics are not a monolith, and entertainment that resonates with a second-generation Mexican-American in Los Angeles, for example, might not resonate with a first-generation Cuban-American in Miami.
“In places like California, you have a lot more second-generation Hispanics, who were born here, speak a little bit of Spanish and consume a little bit of Spanish-language media. They’ll describe themselves as bicultural, but they’re not bilingual in the truest sense,” says Jose Villa, CEO of Los Angeles-based Sensis Agency, a digital marketing firm focused on multicultural advertising. “It’s a very different demographic” than Florida’s Hispanic population, which tends to be more foreign-born and Spanish-speaking, he says.
Ponce says Telemundo aims to tell stories that reflect the diversity of Hispanics, but not in a way that feels forced or phony. “We don’t want to do quotas and checks. We want to tell stories that are authentic,” he says, adding that Telemundo has the advantage of its 30-plusyear track record as a Spanish-language media company. “We understand the culture and values of our audience.”
He says Telemundo casts its productions with actors who are from the same countries as the characters they portray and does not shy away from cultural differences. “We really highlight multiculturalism,” he says. “For instance, we have Cuban characters who use their own expressions and accents, and we like showing that.”
He describes Telemundo’s core audience in the U.S. as “200 percenters” — Hispanics who consider themselves 100% American and 100% Latino. They typically speak Spanish at home and watch Spanish-language TV to feel connected to their culture and families, he says.
One such viewer, Wendy Patterson, was born in the Dominican Republic, the daughter of a Dominican mom and African-American dad. She’s lived most of her life in Miami, works for Telemundo in events planning and has two children, a 15-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
Patterson is a fan of Betty en NY, a Telemundo reboot of Ugly Betty starring Mexican actress Elyfer Torres. The series initially ran on Telemundo and now is available for streaming on Peacock.
“Betty shows that there are different aspects of beautiful, not just slim and straight-haired,” Patterson says, noting that Torres embraces her naturally curly hair. “We’re so different, and I think that’s why I connect with Betty.”
For his part, Ponce defies easy categories. Born in Mexico City, he went to high school in Germany, got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the Midwest and has worked on both the east and west coasts of the U.S., as well as in Canada. “I’m a Midwesterner at heart,” he says.
General Manager / Executive Vice President Univision Communications, Miami
As head of advertising-based video-on-demand initiatives at Univision, Urbina-Quintero is helping to oversee the rollout of PrendeTV, the company’s new Spanishlanguage streaming service. PrendeTV debuted last spring as a collection of streaming channels and on-demand videos, all available for free with ads. Univision plans to add a subscriber-based, ad-free tier to the service next year, boosted by the newly acquired production assets of Mexican TV giant Televisa.
Urbina-Quintero, who heads another recent Univision acquisition, Spanish-language streaming service VIX, spoke to FLORIDA TREND about the company’s streaming plans.
Leadership Change: “A group led by Wade Davis came in and had a very different vision for the future of the business, with streaming at the center of that future. In the past, Univision was in a different operating mode and was more about optimizing the existing linear broadcast and pay TV networks. I think if you asked Wade, he’d say it’s not a minute too soon to be doing this. There’s definitely a sense of urgency on our side to make sure we satisfy the demand for Spanish-language streaming.”
COVID Impact: “During the lockdowns last year, we saw a very significant spike in streaming consumption. We saw it at VIX, and Netflix reported similar trends. Whether it was e-commerce or food delivery, a lot of digital trends got amplified by the pandemic and accelerated the adoption of streaming. Now, we’re in a more normalized environment than we were a year ago, but we’re still seeing tremendous growth.”
Background: “I’m originally from Caracas, Venezuela. My family was in the pay TV business in Venezuela, so I grew up in the media business. I started a pay TV programming business in Spain, sold it, and came to the U.S. — Miami — and started building digital video businesses, eventually leading to VIX, which was one of the first free, Spanish-focused streaming services out there. It grew quickly and caught the attention of Univision. We were acquired by Univision in January, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Differentiation: “With Telemundo, we’re sitting on the largest library of Spanish-language content in the world — 300,000 hours of content. But beyond that, we’re investing heavily in original programming, incremental sports rights and news content for our service. It’s going to be a well-rounded entertainment, sports and news service for the Spanish-speaking consumer.”
Audience: “In the U.S., the segment of Hispanics who are Spanish-dominant is an obvious target for us. We also believe the bilingual market is interested in Spanish-language content when it’s culturally relevant to them and when they see value.”
Targeting: “The beauty of streaming, as opposed to traditional linear television, is that we don’t have to be all things to all people at the same time. We’re not bound by a schedule. We’re not bound by channel capacity, so basically, we can offer content that is targeted to different segments within the Hispanic market and make that work for us. There for sure will be content opportunities that are broad and can cut across the Hispanic market. But not everything we produce is going to be intended for everyone. A lot of what we offer will be much more targeted.”
Connection: “We know that ultimately the Hispanic market wants to see themselves reflected in what they’re consuming. It’s not only about language. It’s also about telling stories that mean something to the Hispanic consumer and that portrays Hispanics in a way that they can feel proud of or get excited about. These are stories that have a cultural connection to the audience.”
Market Opportunity: “The research we’ve seen puts the market at 500 to 600 million Spanish speakers in the world. After English and Mandarin, it’s the largest market globally, and until now, no one has set out to truly serve it. Televisa and Univision together are in an ideal position.”
‘30 Rock of the South’
Built in 2018, Telemundo Center encompasses 570,000 square feet of offices, warehouses and production space on 21 acres in western Miami-Dade County. The $250-million facility includes 13 studios, 48 edit bays, seven production control rooms and two digital labs for Telemundo’s news, sports and entertainment operations. It’s the headquarters for Telemundo Enterprises, a unit of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, as well as for Spanish-language cable channel Universo and the Latin America division of NBCUniversal International.
Five years ago, when Telemundo announced that it would combine its offices and studios into one location, the company was spread across several buildings in Coral Gables and Hialeah. State and local officials offered Telemundo more than $8 million in incentives to persuade it to build its headquarters in Miami-Dade, while the company pledged to retain 800 jobs and create 150 new jobs with an average wage of $89,000.
“We call it our 30 Rock of the South,” says Juan Ponce, senior vice president and general manager of Telemundo Streaming Studios, also based at Telemundo Center.
Initially, some in the industry questioned whether Miami’s talent pool would be deep enough to support Telemundo’s streaming content ambitions, but Ponce says he’s had no trouble staffing productions in Miami.
“In any one production, we can have upwards of 160 to 180 extras and daily players — maybe not the lead characters — who are from the local community,” Ponce says. “We’re happy to see Florida become an entertainment hub.”
The U.S. Hispanic population grew to more than 60 million in 2019 — about 18.5% of the total population, according to Census Bureau data. The growth rate among U.S. Hispanics has slowed in recent decades, falling from 4.8% from 1995- 2000 to less than 2% from 2015-19. The decline has come largely because of falling birth rates and a slowdown in immigration, particularly from Mexico. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research Center
Hispanics in the U.S.
52%— Percent of all U.S. population growth attributed to Hispanics over the past decade
29.8— Median age of U.S. Hispanics vs. national average of 38.1
65%— Percent of Hispanic households who say they speak Spanish as much as or more than English
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Hemisphere Media Group, Pew Research Center
Read more in Florida Trend's October issue.
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