Commentary

Can Social Media Save Spanish-Language Television?

Video didn’t kill the radio star. In fact, radio has recently seen record numbers across some coveted demographics, reaching 92% of Millennials each week. Nor did television kill the theater star, as the success of Hamilton attests. Even so, it seems that the birth of any new technology or media will stir predictions about the impending demise of its predecessor. 

Take for example the anticipated death of television at the hands of its arch nemesis, Netflix. Obviously, television’s still with us—and is stronger than ever following a content renaissance of sorts. Netflix itself set the stage for this revival by disrupting the insular decision-making for which the networks were notorious and giving viewers the intellectually stimulating content they crave. 

HBO had already paved the way with The Sopranos. Since then, shows such as Mad Men and Mr. Robot have captivated viewers with their unique storylines. Even the smaller, cable network players have risen from obscurity to produce some of the best television of the century, as AMC did with Breaking Bad. And the “big three” networks have gradually followed suit. 

Which brings me to Spanish language TV, where I’ve observed a similar dynamic, this time with the social media app Snapchat (now called Snap) as the contender. In the wake of the SNAP IPO, a colleague of mine noted the potential for the popular app to kill Spanish language television. The article was inconclusive, but I contend that Snap could actually save Spanish TV in much the same way that Netflix saved television at large. 

Wait, Does Spanish TV Need Saving? 

My prediction is a bold one, to be sure. But allow me to connect the dots. Univision, launched in 1962, currently has the largest audience of any Hispanic-oriented TV news network in the United States. But in 2014, all of its news programs began losing viewers. 

While 2015 reports were not as dire, the network still suffered more losses than gains; the average audience for Univision’s flagship news program, Noticiero Univision, lost 1.86 million viewers in 2015. Even the popularity of political talk show Al Punto plummeted by 15%. 

So, yes, waning viewership could leave Spanish TV networks grasping for a lifeline. Fortunately, there’s one within reach.

Why Snap’s Success Could Mean a “Golden Age” for Spanish Television

1. “Snapchat is television for Gen Z.” Mark Cuban stated this at SXSW 2017. And Snap’s recent partnership deals with ABC and NBC further validate Cuban’s assertion. Snaps are the most easily consumable of online content, and Gen Z is all over it. Major television networks are taking note; they know that to gain viewers, they need to fish where the fish are. 

2. Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history. Gen Z is the last majority-white generation. More than 60% of Gen Z is Hispanic and over 80% is cross-cultural. This inherent diversity makes Gen Z more open to cross-cultural experiences and content, per the recent report, "We Are GenZ." 

3. Language is not the barrier; content is. MiTu, the only Hispanic-aimed content in Snap’s “Discovery” feature, is experiencing tremendous growth, even with its predominantly Spanish content. MiTu has risen to popularity with humorous snaps such as Cholos Try This. With content that’s short, culturally relevant, and even irreverent at times, MiTu has cracked the Millennial and Gen Z Hispanic code. Similarly, finding that content “sweet spot” will be the key to success for Spanish television. And no one is better poised to capitalize on this trend than Univision and Telemundo.

4. Univision is becoming a total market. Univision is the largest Spanish-language television network, and its recent strategic purchase of The Root, the leading news, opinion and culture site for African Americans, shows that Univision execs have a deep understanding of the dynamic nature of U.S. demographics. In another shrewd move, Univision has partnered with Netflix to develop a miniseries based on the life of Mexican drug lord, “El Chapo.” As Univision evolves into a total market media company, its leaders are also beginning to recognize that the MiTu Snap model could provide the vision they need.

5. Telemundo gains traction with Gen Z. Univision competitor Telemundo has increased its market share by producing Spanish and English language content that appeals to a younger generation, moving away from telenovelas, the Latin American style serial dramas that have long dominated Spanish-language television. 

Shifting Demographics Should Drive Content

Two key trends are at play here: 1) U.S. Hispanic demographics are shifting; population growth is no longer driven by immigration but by U.S. births, and 2) social media content such as MiTu is driving Spanish language television to deliver more of what the target audience wants. 

Telemundo has responded to these trends by focusing on the U.S.-born Hispanic culture with themes and storylines that resonate more with this demographic than with the foreign born. Univision has been slower to adapt but is moving in the right direction. 

Give Them What They Want

While long-form, episodic content was a winning format for Millennials, Gen Z favors snappier, rapid-fire content. Just as NatGeo found its natural home on Instagram, Spanish-language television is sitting on a wealth of content that can be repurposed for a new generation. Univision’s extensive telenovela content, for instance, condensed for Snap, could potentially upset MiTu’s dominance of this space. Imagine the Gen Z appeal of a Snap version of the youth-oriented telenovela Mari Mar!

Telemundo is already reading the writing on the wall and will produce the first Hispanic Snapchat Show, extending its partnership with BuzzFeed Motion Pictures for the series Much Ado about Nada. It’s looking for any, and every, opportunity to exploit its $600 million investment for the next two World Cups including VR programming and a partnership with BuzzFeed’s Tasty. And it has launched a digital-only bilingual reality dating show called Love Clicks, in which the audience decides if a couple really clicks.

Ultimately, success for the large Spanish-language networks will depend on their ability to provide fresh content that reflects the Gen Z culture in both a humorous and meaningful way.

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