[Marxism] Spanish language TV in the US

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Sat Mar 11 16:33:57 MST 2006


A New York Times article has been referred to here about the sale of
Univision, the main Spanish-language over-the-air U.S. TV network, which
includes a discussion of the challenge Univision faces in retaining
younger, bilingual, supposedly upwardly mobile sons of immigrants among
its viewers, and suggesting without actually saying so that the market
for Spanish language television in the U.S. is about to start shrinking
or may already have.

Actually that part of the premise of the article is almost completely
off the wall because the U.S. Hispanic population has been growing due
to immigration and it is immigration that fuels the growing audience for
Spanish-language television.

Nevertheless, both in that piece and elsewhere there is once again a lot
of hype and speculation about this glorious new U.S. Latino market. It
is the young, upwardly mobile, bilingual children of immigrants. 

*  *  *

It's been suggested that perhaps this has something to do with our
discussions on the national question in the U.S. Undoubtedly the
evolution of the Latino communities in the United States are very much
part of our discussion; but Spanish language TV in the U.S., and the
news media's coverage of the Spanish media space, are almost certainly
going to be more an element of confusion than clarity unless you really
know what it is that is going on.

What follows is somewhat disjointed and anecdotal; it could use a
rewrite, but its limited purpose doesn't make it worth it. That purpose
is to convince people not to take very seriously the media hype about
the switch to English-language or English-Spanish bilingual programming.
It isn't "new" --been around since the 1970's-- and bases itself largely
on manipulation and deficiency of official figures. Because the Hispanic
broadcast TV market is constantly growing (unlike the English) you get
these "sages" from various marketing and other outfits that want to take
a portion of that money on the basis that Latinos are really into
English. This is mostly just crass opportunism, trying to pimp off the
community. Latinos are in both markets but it is two LANGUAGE markets,
not one ETHNIC one.

There's also a lot of stupidity and tom foolery that goes on in Spanish
language TV, like when Anglo CNN execs decided to make the very
personable and beautiful Cecilia Bolocco, Chile's first-ever miss
universe, and one of the most incredibly nice people I've ever met, into
a national network news anchor. There's tons of stuff like that, of
clueless Anglo bosses creating impossible ventures or driving perfectly
good ones into bankruptcy in a year or two, programs where a priest
pretends to be a Springer, and then the even more incredible stuff that
actually works, like impossibly gay astrologer Walter Mercado, who comes
across as Divine on Steroids, so he's not nearly as flabby but
incredibly flaming, and he's been a monster star for years, sort of like
a liberated Liberace but without any evident trace of talent.

*  *  *

This idea of the bilingual, yuppie demographic as the pot of gold at the
end of the Spanish-language media rainbow gets hyped every few years. I
believe it is now being fueled by the efforts to sell Univision, because
the three-headed cabal that ran it for 15 years has had a falling out.

Having worked in/around Spanish-language TV for a couple of decades, I
can say with a great deal of conviction that, YES!, "the" demographic
does exist, and it is growing, but no, no one has figured out how to
reach it on TV and even if they could figure it out, it may not be worth
the effort, it is VERY small, and no one knows if it is in the slightest
bit cohesive, i.e., whether you can sell to it as a group. 

The basic audience for Spanish-language over the air television in the
United States are immigrants, very often undocumented, overwhelmingly on
the lower rungs of the working class. The sons of immigrants, while not
as high a proportion as is claimed, are often bilingual, but the higher
you go up the social/income scale, the more they are acculturated to
U.S. "middle class" society/values/cultural norms, and the more they're
likely to insist on an entertainment product with higher production
values than Spanish language TV can afford and whose content has more
direct reference to their own social environment. But not nearly as many
are yuppies as is often believed. Those who remain in the lower rungs of
the working class basically form an intermingled community with the
immigrants, one that functions mostly in Spanish and watches
telenovelas.

Spanish-language television is ALWAYS losing a good chunk of the
children of its core viewers, and always gaining a new generation of
late-teen/20's viewers (new immigrants). And depending on how well you
understand how bad the statistics and market studies actually are, and
how easy it is to manipulate them effectively, you can get lots of $$
from investors and angels and Wall Street or even your mothership
company for truly idiotic Hispanic media ventures, especially by
confusing those two groups (yuppie young adults and immigrant young
adults). 

A current example is NBC's bilingual network for Hispanic yuppies, mun2
(meant to be pronounced "mun-dos".) Never heard of it? Exactly. Neither
has most of its target audience.

That isn't, of course, ONLY the fault Don Browne, the NBC proconsul who
serves as CEO of Telemundo (despite the name, Browne is, of course,
white --the "e" at the end is a dead giveaway). To get a network like
that, "all" that a consumer needs to do is to subscribe to basic cable,
upgrade to expanded basic cable, rent a set-top digital box, upgrade to
digital basic, and then ADD to that premium version of basic cable a
premium tier of Spanish language channels, consisting basically of stuff
that would make up the extreme low end of the basic cable universe in
terms of quality and production values if it were in English.

The satellite guys also, like the cable guys, use two different levels
of their technology platform to deliver this minority-interest Spanish
material. It requires a different, oval instead of round dish, and
special receivers. But the satellite guys are trying to compete for
market share, cable is everywhere a monopoly and has yet to really adapt
to the idea that those halcyon days of being the only alternative are
coming to an end.

So if you go to the cable guys and ask for mun2, they'll say, that's $14
for barebones cable (local channels) and $20 more for expanded basic
cable; and $10 for the digital basic tier, $6 for the converter (digital
set top box), and then $10 for the Spanish tier. And you've got to pay
us for installation and if you want to watch what you really want to
watch (mun2) in another room that's be another $6 or $10 for each
additional  box. A month.

And that's before Cinemax or HBO or Sundance or anything else like that.
And they're trying this "upsell" all the way downmarket. As any
first-year marketing student would tell you, these folks are morons.

One of the dirty little secrets of the TV cable racket is that Spanish
community leaders and politicians have denounced this repeatedly as
illegal tying --to get Spanish channels, consumers have to pay for
English channels which Spanish speakers don't want. The FCC has go on
its docket a draft order to force cable companies to offer channels
a-la-carte. Those with long memories will ALSO remember a decade ago the
cable companies boo-hooing that all that nasty government regulation was
keeping them from advancing. They needed deregulation to go digital and
make offers like a-la-carte, pay per view in the home, and
video-on-demand.

What this means is that at most a couple of million households in the
U.S. get more than Univision or Telemundo. Those that do, get a Spanish
tier do so disproportionately, way disproportionately through satellite.

The reason is the Satellite guys say, we've got a basic English package
of 70 channels for $35, or a basic bilingual package of 70 channels for
$35, the only thing is you need is to decide up front if you want now or
may want in the future the Spanish channels because the installation is
a little different and we wouldn't be able to do a free install twice.

Unfortunately from the point of view of Telemundo CEO Don Browne, the
satellite guys being so smart doesn't help him, because he can't get
detailed subscriber information broken down by regional market for the
satellites, and there's too few mun2 viewers to show up in the Nielsen
ratings. (The satellite guys quite understandably don't want the cablers
to know where they've made the most headway to prevent the cable
monopolies from coming in with ultra low pricing offers in those places
to get a switch from satellites). 

So Don Browne may have a great potential audience of, say, a few tens of
thousands nationwide that concentrated this way advertisers might be
willing to pay a premium for, but instead the network is almost
certainly going to be at the very bottom of the advertising dollar food
chain.

So while real enough, the bilingual yuppie demographic is so thin and
the monopolized structure of the industry so inflexible that even if you
could design an especially attractive channel to "select" these folks,
which I doubt, you can't get it to them as an attractive economic
proposition. 

*  *  *

Lots of people in the industry, well, at least a few, understand this.
The reason that people keep trying it is that *as a concept* it
invariably sells, because the figures about Latinos in the U.S. are
tremendously distorted and the distortion creates the illusion that this
yuppie bilingual group is much greater than it is, and this fits all
sorts of prejudices, stereotypes and patriotic myths prevalent among
media folks.

Here is how it works. The census missed maybe a third, half or more of
the undocumented population. For this reason, the socio-economic status
of the average Latino is even *worse* than the statistics claim,
Moreover, net immigration is proceeding at a very accelerated rate, so
in between the undercounted and the yet-to-be counted, you've got --it's
anybody's guess really, I'll say 10-15 million-- people who don't show
up in the population counts, descriptions of income levels and so on,
but hopefully DO show up in the ratings and viewer/listener surveys.
And, overwhelmingly, they're 18-34, the most lusted-after demographic in
the racket. 

Now, it just so happens that if the census had counted and were counting
them, your 18-34 male Hispanic viewers would show up as part of this
huge number of Hispanic 18-34 year olds who are dirt poor and
nevertheless send back every last extra cent they have home to their mom
in Chiapas to keep his little brothers and sisters fed. Noble to be
sure, and I'd want to hit up western union and other money transfer
companies for ads, but what *else* are they looking to buy? 

So you use census figures covering maybe 30 million Hispanics or a
little more. But your ratings, circulation, etc, really are of a
population that may be 45 million or more. The "missing" millions are
young adults and by a ratio of 60-40 male, THE most prized demographic
of them all (usually). So you use these "extra" viewers to play
statistically in such a way as to impute to them a
professional/managerial/bilingual/U.S. born status. The proportion of
"yuppie bilingual" Hispanics is in reality much lower than the census
implies, but it is also possible to work the figures to make them even
MORE deceptive.

If you're in a "hypergrowth" state like mine, Georgia, you can do ten
and five year statistics showing that "the most recent census figures"
show since 1995 the Hispanic market has grown 50% (in reality by 2000 it
had grown much more, because the growth was all among the undocumented,
which is where the undercount is, the "legal" population has grown much
less, if at all). But your radio station, which back then had only two
direct competitors and now has five, has doubled its listeners! That's
how wonderful it is! 

IN reality, of course, the size of the population is now four times that
of 1995; you've lost market share and ratings up the kazoo. BUT! -- if
you're clever enough to do your market share figure as percentage of ALL
radio stations (not just Spanish market) you can pretty much
disguise/dismiss this saying well of course our market share is .03% but
that's the entire market including English radio.

Then you extract --from census demographics-- the yuppie component. If
you're very clever, you'll do this for something like "Georgia and
neighboring states, metro areas with at least 150,000 Hispanics" so
basically you can include Miami --where there is the largest group of
Hispanic bilingual professionals, managers, businessmen and so on-- and
EXCLUDE pretty much everywhere else except Atlanta. This to convince
some ad agency to do a big buy for ads for Lexus and hummers to sell to
this bilingual upwardly mobile layer that's X% of the 18-44 age group in
"cities with large Hispanic populations in this part of the country."

Now, 99 times out of 100, that actually doesn't work: it used to
sometimes a few years back, but a whole series of Latino TV and dot-com
catastrophes mean that it doesn't, not any more. And in terms of
executives high up in the media food chain and investors, it almost
never works, BUT --this is the important part-- you only have to find a
few, or even just one with deep enough pockets to get a very big
paycheck. And when you combine two of the most outstanding
characteristics of America's top managers --boundless greed and
unlimited ignorance-- for sure you're going to get a hit.

What you want to sell them isn't a program or a network that can reach
its real audience of mostly poor immigrants, but the sugarplum fairy
audience, upwardly mobile bilingual professionals and managers and so
on, the sons of immigrants making it in the American dream, because that
other network or program is worth a lot more. 

So you pull out actual honest figures, beyond reproach, of the 18-34
year olds watching, and how many of them are young men. And you say, see
the number is going up. I think this cohort of the children of
immigrants is staying with us: even as they become successful in
American society, they're preserving their ties to their roots. And let
me tell you how successful -- why in Georgia and neighboring states in
metro areas with large Latino populations, and then you feed you mark
the phony "averages" you got from craftily isolating Miami and letting
its demographics swamp those of the smaller Atlanta population.

The truth is 18-34 year old viewership is increasing -- that's the age
of the immigrants, and their numbers are growing rapidly. But they're
all poor, not upwardly mobile professionals and managers.

And there are variations of this same scam being played all over the
place, especially in government offices, and in do-gooding,
non-profiteering and poverty-pimping outfits of all types. 

So for example Jane Fonda has given all sorts of money to fighting
teenage pregnancy in  Georgia and especially among Latinas. The figures
are incredible, pregnancy among Latina teenagers has skyrocketed just in
the last 10 or 12 years to the highest level of any group in the
country, a jump of something like 70% in the fertility rate. 

Except that this makes absolutely no sense. There's no reason for the
fertility rate have jumped like that in Georgia, or for it to be 120 in
Tennessee and 150 in Georgia. And if you look at a map of the states
where this "crisis" has suddenly emerged in the last few years, it's all
the "hypergrowth" states where the Latino population has exploded since
the mid 90's due primarily to undocumented immigrants. And the higher
the "hypergrowth" the higher the fertility rate.

So, of course, what's really going on is that we're not really measuring
how many children are being born per 1000 young Latinas, we've
constructed an index that suggests how many young Latinas there are in
the state that aren't taken into account in official figures. What we
have is not a fertility index, but an undercount index. Because the
number of children born to Latinas in every locality in the United
States is actually a figure that is known with a high degree of
precision. But what is anybody's guess is how many young Latinas there
are. 

Also, there is a good, straightforward, well-documented, rational
explanation for the undercount, whereas there is none for the bizarre
behavior of fertility rates for Latinas in the "hypergrowth" states in
the South if these are assumed to actually be measuring fertility.

The undercount is a no-brainer. When you send around government agents
bearing clipboards and computers to knock on the doors of people who see
how everyday on TV everyone is screaming for their blood, with
accusations that you're a bunch of job-stealing, disease-ridden, school
budget busting, benefit chiseling, tax-payment-defaulting terrorists,
and you'll be lucky if we just send you back to Mexico and not to
Guantanamo, the non-cooperation rate is going to be astronomical. 

The truth is that at least in Georgia, where we've even had a lynching
and group murders of immigrants, and had no large and well-established
pre-existing Latino community, and not even a single elected official at
the time the census was done, they missed half or two thirds of the
undocumented immigrants in 2000 and are missing even more with the
Current Population Survey which is used to update the census figures.

Now I'm not saying that these people in non-profiteer pregnancy fighting
and counseling and similar are like us hacks in the media world and are
consciously manipulating the figures like we do, a skill we pick up so
naturally in covering the news for the pig press that it becomes second
nature. 

Quite the contrary, my impression is that they quite honestly and
sincerely believe the numbers, after all, they're Official Figures. They
truly don't have a clue. 

But it is an emerging field, the Latino health/social crisis study grant
and then action/remediation grant field. I've seen reports on jumps in
the rates of diabetes, cancer and STD's, for example, just about
anything you wish that can be or is counted fairly accurately in this
country is going to show an increasing rate for Latinos, including
things than can be portrayed as indicators of social progress, like the
number of phone lines and cable subscriptions converted to a rate (per
1000 population). 

I say all this because the vicissitudes of Spanish language TV are
incomprehensible unless you understand this. Two different things are
being sold. Eyeballs --usually of very poor people-- to companies
selling basic household products and things like English-language
courses on CD. Then there's the business of selling the illusion that
you're going to reach the upwardly mobile sons of immigrant bilingual
yuppies by buying a Spanish-language network, TV station, newspaper or
other major media outlet. And the inevitable train wreck when you try to
carry out a business plan based on those assumptions.

If you look at the national Spanish media space over the past twenty
years you will see it is littered with failure after failure and
bankruptcy after bankruptcy even of the best-known, "how could they
miss?" outfits. That because there is bubble after bubble, and a growing
weird consolidation where the little weekly or fortnightly free
distribution "advertisers" --which is most of the Spanish-language
newspapers-- are owned by big media conglomerates like the LA Times or
Knight-Ridder. Because their managers got sold a bill of goods at some
point. And they don't want to take the loss on the balance sheet of
current management if they dumped them, because that hurts bonuses. Or
weird stuff like Clear Channel changing two of their Atlanta FM stations
to two of their stock Spanish-language formats, and a year later
changing them back, because the world's biggest and most powerful radio
monopoly couldn't make a dent against ma-and-pa AM radio stations run by
little radio capitalists in our community. 

*  *  *

Now for a little history of Spanish national network TV

The U.S. Hispanic population is overwhelmingly the product of
immigration in the last 40+ years. Figures like that it is now "60%
native born" are bullshit. The figures don't include many/most
undocumented immigrants, and the figures includes Puerto Ricans from the
island as "native born" even though, for example, when the census bureau
reports U.S. population, it doesn't include Puerto Rico as part of the
United States (nor should it). 

Puerto Ricans are "native born" in terms of legal status, U.S. laws
impose this foreign citizenship on them at birth, but socially,
culturally, and politically, Puerto Ricans aren't Americans (not even in
the sense one says that Afro-Americans are "Americans"). One can argue
whether or in what ways it is true that Blacks are "a nation within a
nation," but no one argues that Puerto Rico is anything but another
nation 1,000 miles from the United States. When Puerto Ricans say, "mi
país" (my country) or "mi patria" (my homeland) they mean Puerto Rico,
when they talk about national politics --even the statehooders-- they
mean PR politics, U.S. political affairs aren't "national" but
"federal." For this reason Puerto Ricans who come here from Puerto Rico
need to be considered "immigrants" even if they don't have to deal with
la migra. 

The "Spanish surnamed" population detected by the 1960 census was three
and a half million. Today Hispanics are officially 40 million,
unofficially 45 million or more. In that period the U.S. population went
from 179 million to 293 million, an increase of about 70%. The Latino
increase is on the order of 1200% to 1500%. If you subtract Latinos from
the overall figures, that non-Latino U.S. population increased barely 1%
a year, a total of 43% using 2004 figures.

So among the forms of hype you'll encounter in relation to
Spanish-language media in the U.S. are fantastic growth rates. But this
is like talking about the growth of computer retailers starting in 1975.

National Spanish-language TV in the U.S. was a stepchild of the
tight-fisted reactionary Mexican entertainment monopolist Emilio
Azcarraga, owner of Televisa. Though U.S. law prohibits foreigners from
owning TV stations, Ascarraga simply got around that by hiring fronts.
He began with two stations; by the mid-80's he had 16 stations mostly in
the SouthWest.

SIN was just Televisa. Even the absolutely execrable, Mexican PRI
officialist, imperialist puppy "news" casts of Jacobo Zabludovsky were
carried on the network.

In the mid-1980's a takeover firm called Reliance Capital, a branch of a
venerable insurance firm, which had made a huge killing "greenmailing"
Disney for something like $60 million, bought a small group of
disfavored TV stations and changed it into the Telemundo network, using
a long-established TV brand in Puerto Rico that had already, I think,
crossed over into the NY market. Among its initial projects was an
alliance with a Miami program producer called HBC for a nightly network
newscast. HBC got staff from defections from SIN's local news operations
when they heard that Zabludovsky was coming to the U.S. to be news
director for the entire network and anchor a new national newscast (it
never did happen because Televisa had to divest; more on that later).
HBC's business plan was based on appealing to this new yuppie
demographic. It went bellyup in a year, which is when Ted Turner's CNN
got into the Spanish language TV business, doing the nightly news for
Telemundo out of the old Headline News Newsroom in Atlanta with the
quite solid Jorge Gestoso as lead anchor accompanied at various stages
by some truly peculiar choices for co-anchor, including former Miss
Universe Cecilia Bolocco, who went on to better success starring in
telenovelas and marrying ex Argentine President Menem. To understand
those sorts of decisions, like making a miss universe an anchor, which I
view as a sort of archetype of the kind of goofiness that goes on in
Spanish-language TV, you need to understand that it is Anglos who made
that decision, and in reality not even in consultation with the
Spanish-speaking or Latino producers running the actual production unit.

Telemundo was this phenomenon writ large. It had the peculiarity that
the people that owned it and ran it didn't know anything about TV nor
the Latino communities. It also became clear a few years later, by
examining bankruptcy filings, that they didn't know anything about
running a business. The family involved had inherited an insurance
business, but not the smarts to run it through ups and downs in the
markets or to adapt to a changing market, and seemed to prefer mucking
about on the fringes of the glamorous world of entertainment -- than in
the ho-hum job of running a boring printing press that all it does in
print dollar bills, which is in essence what an insurance company
normally is.

But that accounts for a peculiarity. Telemundo hired other companies to
produce "its own" programs. Because "its" production facilities were in
Miami --actually in converted warehouses in Hialeah-- it was also
heavily influenced by the local Cuban TV personalities and executives.
Reliance was bankrupted by the family by the beginning of the 90's and
Telemundo spun off, if I remember right, to I forget who, who put a guy
named Joaquin Blaya, who'd just been run out of or quit Univision, in
charge. He succeeded in bankrupting Telemundo as such in very short
order. 

Blaya is often thought of as Cuban although actually he's from Chile,
but he's part of this layer of Miami Cuban and other non-Mesoamerican
professionals and executives that have been a disproportionate part of
the Hispanic media world in the U.S. Many of the fights AMONG Hispanics
for influence and control of Spanish language media has a "Miami" or
"Miami and New York" versus LA subtext; and it also has this component
of chasing after the high-value young immigrant-descended
professional/managerial bilingual layer, which even in Miami isn't as
big as it is hyped up to be, but at least does exist enough there to do
something with it, but elsewhere is simply too small.

The late 80's and early 90's were years of one of these hype boomlets
about the changing demographics of the Hispanic Market. The presenters
and reporters of Telemundo newscasts and morning shows, which brand the
station and network's identity were overwhelmingly non-Mexican as was
much of its entertainment product. However, Telemundo competed against
heavily Mexican SIN (now renamed Univision) in the Southwest and against
successful local stations in Miami, New York and Puerto Rico. Telemundo
had sold itself basically by projecting itself as the ideal vehicle to
reach the bilingual, bicultural yuppie demographic, i.e. the audience
network tops and executives in Hialeah looked at when they shaved in the
morning, and their circles of family, friends and relatives.  

So Blaya spent a huge amount of money appealing to this (on a national
scale) tiny demographic, neither the ratings nor advertising dollars
showed up, and Telemundo went into the drink, chapter 11. Blaya went on
to found a modest chain a of a few dozen radio stations called Radio
Unica and supplements his CEO income as a "visionary" in the business
lecture racket and as a member of the Board of Governors of the Voice of
America and other official imperialist propaganda outlets. 

When Telemundo emerged from the red-ink bath that Blaya gave it, it
seemed to go through a rebranding every couple of years, until finally
they got an alliance with TV Azteca and got some Mexican entertainment
programming.

It's been through a number of owners, including SONY and Liberty media
in the late 1990's, and it finally wound up with GE/NBC in 2001. It's
back to the staple of Spanish language TV --telenovelas, soap operas--
but keeps toying in various ways with the same old benighted idea of
hitting gold with the young, bilingual, Hispanic upwardly mobile
demographic. For a while it was even closed captioning telenovelas in
English, and gave that a lot of promotion.

At one point in the mid-1990's it tried to do a 24-hour Spanish language
news channel for Latin America and the U.S. in alliance with Reuters,
some Spanish TV outfit and others, and failed, eventually liquidating
the project into a CBS attempt to do the same thing, which, needless to
say, also failed. There was also an NBC attempt, based, of all places,
in North Carolina, which also failed. 

CNN en Español which was the last one to launch, survived, one suspects
because of the newsgathering economies of scale CNN affords, the deep
pockets of Turner and Time Warner, and because the launch was held up
until it could be done on the basis of robotic cameras, automated
"fonts" and graphics, and video server (as opposed to tape) technology,
which eliminates the majority of the control room "technical" crew.

Looking at the previous efforts I referred to, though, you might say how
can these people all be so stupid? Easy, all the top execs and moneybags
were and are Anglos, and the story about this growing "children of
immigrants bilingual yuppie demographic" seems true enough, because just
about every other Hispanic those types know fits it. They know three
cleaning women including their maid Juana, some gardeners and a waiter
or two. And then a half dozen of these young, aggressive, sharp Hispanic
producers and executives who are just like white people, except they can
also speak Spanish, as well as one of their sisters who is a broker and
another one who works in marketing. And they assume they are the
children of people like Juana, perhaps a little better off, but not so
different. They're not. They're children of middle and upper middle
class mostly European stock folks from all over Latin America but
especially Cuba, not of Mexican or Central American indigenous
descendants.

Meanwhile SIN became Univision when someone pointed out to the FCC that
the company and station ownership structures were a transparent fraud.
Televisa had to divest; Hallmark bought SIN, and like a good Christian
God-fearing outfit changed the name, and as if often the case with white
folks who know nothing about the TV business or the community, ran it
into the ground. Fortunately for Hallmark that didn't matter because
there was the hype boom about the bilingual gold at the end of the
Hispanic media rainbow, so in the early 90's it was bought by this guy
named Perencchio in alliance with Venevision, of the Cisneros group of
companies, and Azcarraga's Televisa. Some people claim Perencchio
actually speaks no Spanish, but others insist he understands more than
he lets on. Whatever. 

If I remember details of the deal right, Perenchio put up $50 million
and is the majority partner, whereas Venevision and Telemundo put up
$500 million and a guarantee to absorb any future losses between them
without Perenchio having to put up a penny in exchange for something
like a 1/3rd interest divided between the two of them. Part of the deal
was that Univision had to get much/most of its programming from
Venevision and Televisa. Univision got control of US distribution of
shows from those two companies.

Basically it was a deal to monopolize the main Spanish-language network
in the U.S. on behalf of the two largest autonomous media monopolies in
Spanish Latin America, and prevent a competitor to this monopoly outlet
by letting Univision control the U.S. distribution of the output of
these two largest program production machines in Spanish-speaking Latin
America.

What did become genuinely U.S.-based and more or less responsive to the
community as SIN became Univision and that network changed hands was its
news and information programming, including a half-hour nightly news and
a very successful early morning show, as well as some sports
programming. Univision has a very heavy Latin American and Latino
community --especially immigration-- news focus. It also has Mexican
anchors.

So that's how you get 80% of the audience: news and current affairs
people are concerned about or interested in and lots of telenovelas. Of
course, it is tremendously helpful if you have Telemundo as your
competitor. For however spectacular a success with a telenovela like
Betty la fea that Telemundo has had from time to time, it doesn't seem
to inoculate them from doing things like airing a "hip" talk show from
Miami hosted by a Papist skypilot, or promising that 100% of prime time
programming is going to be produced in the United States. 

Now, WHY Venevision and Televisa would do this sort of deal has to do
with this very ironic fact: while it is the cut-rate bargain basement of
the U.S. TV market, and a catastrophe in terms of programming, U.S.
Spanish-language television is very lucrative in comparison to that of
Latin American countries. What would make sense of course is for
Hispanic-United Statesian producers and companies to dominate the
continent. But imperialism in general makes this specific bit of
imperialism in particular very hard to do. Because in the United States
Spanish is an oppressed language because the communities are oppressed,
so they don't grow the people with the necessary language skills. And
because the road to success in U.S. for Hispanics is acculturation and
assimilation. The more successful and acceptable they are as managers
and executives the less likely they are to have a clue as to what to
produce.

The effect is that the semi-colonial tail wags the imperialist dog in
Spanish language TV. So Venevision and Televisa at bottom treat the laws
requiring U.S. control of broadcast license holders with the contempt
that imperialist companies usually reserve for the laws of places like
Mexico and Venezuela. 

Now the Univision deal is the one that's unraveled in the last year or
two. The Cisneros family --it used to be referred to as the
Cuban-Venezuelan Cisneros family, now it is becoming
Venezuelan-American-- is now headquartered out of Miami except for the
old man who apparently likes Venezuela better. Venevision itself remains
in Venezuela, it has to be by law, just like U.S. broadcasters have to
be in "America". Meanwhile Azcarraga's son now runs Televisa, and he
also sees his future in the U.S. media space. The deal on Univision with
Perenchio had to be extremely rigid to give Venevision and Televisa
ownership privileges and value --which they paid for-- while maintaining
titular control in Perenchio's hands. There are detailed quotas on how
much programming Univision has to get from its partners and so on, and
Televisa is accusing Perenchio of violating the deal.

So the three have decided to put Univision up for sale. It will be
interesting to see whether all the restrictive and compulsory covenants
of the original deal get carried over. At any rate, the three will make
off like bandits, as the figure being bandied about in journalistic
circles is $12 billion, 20  times what the three paid in the early 90's,
and this at a time when media stocks are notoriously depressed.

Suitors are said to be all the usual suspects, the big American media
conglomerates, which is nice in a way because this time it may not just
be white guys who are clueless about the Latino community in the
running. There is also one Black guy who is clueless about the Latino
community is in the running, Time Warner honcho Dick Parsons. 

But Parsons may not have an easy time getting such a deal through his
board since Time Warner's stock price has been pretty much crazy glued
to $18 a share in the four or five years since Parsons became
chairman/CEO by default. (The positions fell into his lap when
shareholders made the previous bosses walk the plank for the
catastrophically disastrous AOL-Time Warner merger that wiped out
something like three fourths of the value of the two companies and
provoked the collapse of the stock market dot-com bubble).

Azcarraga is also said to be trying to put together some sort of deal to
give him control of it, basically to thumb his nose at U.S. law with
some fig leaf of technical compliance. 

Whatever deal is cut, it will almost certainly be sold on the basis of
the great new demographic those hyping various Hispanic media deals have
been touting at least since the mid-1970's (remember "Queue Pisa,
USA"?). And it will almost certainly provide for continued control of
the entertainment content by Venevision and Televisa, although televisa
may try to ice out Venevision. Usually claims that content is king are
koo-koo, but not in this case, because it isn't possible for U.S.
companies to organize themselves sufficient content of a suitable
character, the people running these companies wouldn't even know where
to begin. The entire field is, in a word, "foreign" to them as is the
audience. 

Whatever realities the community --the market-- imposes are likely to be
the least recognized aspect of things, although the ratings will lead to
an adjustment to those realities over time. But in the first instance
that won't drive this deal.

There is one major factor that I think may influence this deal --I think
it is overhanging media stocks already-- which is that it is fairly easy
to imagine how the media conglomerates model (based one a
one-monster-publisher-to-many-little-consumers architecture) could
completely fall apart or at least lose its hegemonic position within a
few years in TV, as has already happened in recorded music.

More on that in another post. 

Maybe.

Joaquín

-----Original Message-----
From: marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu
[mailto:marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu] On Behalf Of Marvin Gandall
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 11:19 AM
To: Marxmail
Subject: [Marxism] Internal national minorities

Joaquin Bustelo would be in a much better position to comment, but this
seems to be another example of how generational change in immigrant
communities weakens the attachment to the traditional national culture,
especially its language, and fosters integration into the broader
community so that internal national minorities are "both inside and
outside" advanced capitalist society - with all of the potential
contradictions this implies for their political consciousness and
behaviour.






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