Trying to tap the growing market of young Hispanics who watch television as their parents sleep, the two leading Spanish-language networks plan to launch late-night variety shows to replace a mishmash of programming in the formerly neglected midnight slot.


Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., the nation's largest Spanish-language media company, opened the battle for late night by announcing its new hour-long midnight offering, " & #260;Ay Qu & #233; Noche!," which is planned to begin during the fall season.


Univision's rival, Telemundo Communications Inc., responded by vowing a late-night show of its own this fall, but it has not named the program or offered details about its content.


Currently, Univision airs reruns of comedies during the midnight slot that garner lackluster ratings. Telemundo, which is owned by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., shows reruns of its afternoon talk show.


By entering the midnight time frame with original programming, both Univision and Telemundo are acknowledging demographic changes in their audiences. Both have attracted older viewers with a mix of talk shows, news programs and telenovelas. But with the explosive growth in the population of young Latinos, Univision and Telemundo view late night as an opportunity to capture a new generation of viewers.


"The Hispanic audience has grown and become more diverse," said H & #233;ctor Orc & #237;, founder and cochairman of La Agencia de Orc & #237; & Asociados, a Los Angeles-based Hispanic marketing agency. "Is this (late night spot) a gold mine? I'm not sure it's a gold mine, but a good program will certainly find an audience."


The 18- to 34-year-old demographic is the fastest-growing audience for Spanish-language television in the United States, according to Nielsen Media Research. Spanish-language television viewership among the 18-34 demographic has increased more than 20 percent between 2004 and 2005, with Univision capturing the largest share of that viewership. In the past year, Univision viewership increased 38 percent.


Univision's 2005-06 broadcast schedule appears to tilt toward the younger demographic even without the late-night entry. The network's new telenovelas are aimed at younger audiences, while reality shows and celebrity specials also factor into the lineup.


Univision executives did not return calls. In a press release announcing the 2005-06 programming lineup, the company boasted that Univision's viewership among 18 to 34-year-olds often exceeds that of English-language networks. During the 2004-05 season, Univision drew a larger audience of 18- to 34-year-olds than one of the major English-language networks ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX on 146 of 231 nights in prime time, according to Nielsen.


White nights
But Univision and Telemundo experience sharp declines late at night. English-language talk shows hosted by Jay Leno and David Letterman capture larger shares of Hispanic audiences than the reruns featured on the Spanish-language networks.


"That slot has been underperforming relative to prime time which we think is due to the demographic makeup of most Hispanic households, which are families who go to bed early," said David Miller, an analyst with Sanders Morris Harris Group Inc., an investment bank and money management firm.


To succeed, " & #260;Ay Qu & #233; Noche!" ("Oh, What a Night!") and its unnamed Telemundo rival will need to court younger viewers who may watch English-language talk shows or nothing at all during the midnight hour. "They shouldn't have a problem getting ratings in those slots because the Hispanic audience skews younger," he said.


In announcing " & #260;Ay Qu & #233; Noche!," Univision said the show would feature heavy audience participation, stage acts, celebrity interviews and musical performances. Univision did not name any hosts, nor did it say where the show will be based. Univision's television studios are in Miami.


Telemundo spokesman Alfredo Richard said programmers still are working out the format of the show, which he maintained was not directly in response to Univision's " & #260;Ay Qu & #233; Noche!." "There's been a lot of advertiser interest," Richard said. "It's a slot that and the Univision entry proves this where the Hispanic audiences haven't had a show that they can go to."


Miller said that a strong showing in the late night slot would help boost Univision's operating income, given that television accounts for 68 percent of the company's overall revenues.


The company reported first-quarter net income of $44.5 million, compared with $31.6 million for the period a year earlier. Revenue was $433 million in the quarter, up from $352.9 million.


Orc & #237; said Univision's long-term success depends on its ability to reach younger viewers, who often are bilingual and switch easily between English- and Spanish-language television. Not only are younger viewers more fickle, but they are the audience with the most disposable income.


"Teens and early 20s are notoriously difficult to corner in this market," he said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.