Since his days as a Hollywood talent agent, 75-year-old A. Jerrold Perenchio has a history of great timing in business deals.
His biggest success may have come with the announcement this week of the potential sale of Univision Communications, the Spanish-language media conglomerate he controls.
That's because the U.S. Latino audience is moving steadily from Spanish to English in its media habits. As far back as 2003, when the Century City-based Univision merged with radio firm Hispanic Broadcasting, FCC Chairman Michael Powell rejected the idea that Univision could have a media monopoly by noting that "Spanish-speaking Americans spend a majority of their viewing and listening time with English-language stations."
So far, the language shift hasn't hurt Univision's fortunes. The company reported 2004 revenues of $1.7 billion, and expects "high single-digit" growth when it reports 2005 totals on March 2, according to guidance from the company. Following the announcement of the company's possible sale its stock price jumped 14 percent. The market currently values Univision at more than $10 billion.
But last year Leland Westerfield, a stock analyst at investment bank Harris Nesbitt, calculated that in 2009, the population growth of second-generation Hispanics would pass that of first-generation immigrants, the mainstay of the Spanish audience. As a result, "we are in the golden age of Hispanic mass media in this decade," Mr. Westerfield said. "In the next decade, when bilingualism takes hold more and more, we will probably see a proliferation of cable networks and Internet media tailored to a more fragmented Latino population, fragmented by culture and linguistic differences among generations."
Language fragmentation poses a big challenge for Univision. In her book, "Latinos Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People," Arlene Davila, associate professor at New York University, reports that Univision refuses English-language ads and prefers a generic Spanish rather than the Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican variants spoken by its audience segments.
Mr. Westerfield concludes that "for Univision in this decade, the opportunity is to invest not only in winning over brand marketers to the Hispanic media environment, but also to invest in the programming to bilingual Hispanics in the coming decade."
In the simplest terms, Perenchio may be cashing Univision out of the Spanish-language broadcasting business at its absolute peak. It's advertising revenues have never been stronger and the network's ratings place it behind only ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, according to Nielsen Media. The broadcast of this year's World Cup soccer tournament, the most popular sporting event among Latinos, should only solidify that standing.
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