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At the Crossroads

10/13/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

It has been an eventful year since the Reed Television Group's last annual Hispanic Television Summit. And the momentum fueling the Hispanic TV market shows no signs of easing up heading into this week's conference.

This past year, more networks, more penetration and more viewers spelled continued growth for English- and Spanish-language Latino cable channels. While that growth means more choice for consumers, it also creates new challenges for media buyers. “Now we have to really look out for trends, for fragmentation, for how the programming is staying current,” said Isabella Sanchez, vice president and managing director at the Tapestry agency (see Q&A, page 14A).

Just as the ranks of networks targeting Hispanics swell, so does the number of cable and satellite operators trying to keep pace by improving and promoting their offerings (see listings, pages 18A and 24A). With a ratings surge among independent stations, low-power stations are attracting increased attention and investment as a cost-effective strategy for expanding market reach.

And while the Hispanic broadcast industry as a whole lags when it comes to a multicasting strategy, the exception to that is a small religious broadcaster for whom expanding distribution is an evangelical imperative (see story, page 12A).

On the ratings front, the decision by Univision Communications Corp. and Telemundo to switch from the Nielsen Hispanic Television Index to the mainstream Nielsen Television Index topped the list of hot topics heading into this year's upfront. (Although Univision eventually recognized it could not force advertisers and media buyers to place large orders based on NTI.) Doug Darfield, senior vice president of Hispanic services for Nielsen Media Research, discusses the ratings switch and some reporting wrinkles that ensued on page 16A.

Meanwhile, next-generation Latinos are changing the face of the market as the Hispanic population shifts from primarily Latin American immigrants to a second and third generation dominated by their U.S.-born offspring. That, in turn, has fueled ongoing debates over programming tastes, language preferences and new platforms.

For Carl Kravetz, president of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, a “strategic, thoughtful discussion” about the Latino identity is more critical than ever (see Q&A, page 14A).

And, of course, there was Univision's decision to put itself up for sale. The company accepted a $13.7 billion offer from a group of private-equity investors and media mogul Haim Saban in June, after rejecting an earlier bid by Grupo Televisa. But Univision remains dependent upon Televisa for its hugely successful lineup of telenovelas — something that could change depending on the outcome of an ongoing legal battle over program-license agreement fees (see story, page 4A).

Even telenovelas themselves, long a Hispanic programming mainstay, are not immune to change. Already a key determining factor in some Spanish-language networks' success, the genre has begun appearing on U.S. English-language networks. The United States, according to associate professor Carolina Acosta-Alzuru of the University of Georgia, could be “the final frontier left for the telenovela to conquer” (see story, page 6A).

As the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, Hispanic audiences will continue to spur changes in the marketplace, from programming and distribution to emerging technologies.

The challenge for the television industry will be to keep up with all those changes and to deliver the goods when it comes to evolving consumer expectations.

September