Spanish-language stations are no longer kings of the local airwaves.

It’s a dramatic drop for several outlets that spent years at or near the top of the Business Journal’s annual lists of local radio and broadcast television outlets.

Spanish-language stations shed listeners and viewers over the past year and have fallen completely out of the top five on both of this year’s lists.

Combined audience share for radio stations broadcasting in Spanish fell more than 2 points year-over-year in October, while Spanish-language television stations lost more than 3 points, according to Nielsen Co.

Two large English-language radio station chains – iHeartMedia Inc. of San Antonio, Texas and CBS Radio of New York – increased their combined market share by 2 points.

The two account for control of almost half the local radio market between them and own nine of the 10 most popular local radio stations.

Media experts attribute the shift from Spanish-language media leading the market to English-language overtaking the field this year to several factors. There’s been a shift in preferences among younger listeners in Spanish-speaking communities for English-speaking media, among other things.

“We’re seeing a significant drop in Spanish-language audiences for legacy media,” said Jose Benavides, professor of journalism at California State University Northridge.

New York-based Univision Communications’ KLVE-FM 107.5, with an adult contemporary format, is the highest-ranking Spanish language radio station at No. 7, while Univision’s KMEX Channel 34 is the highest-ranking Spanish language broadcast television station at No. 6.

Each station fell two spots – KLVE was No. 5 and KMEX was No. 4 last year.

The Spanish-language radio stations on the list had a combined 19.4 audience share in October, down 2.2 points from 21.6 for the same year-ago period. Spanish-language television stations had a combined average of 172,000 viewers daily, down 3.3 percent from 178,000 in 2016.

English-language radio stations overall saw their audience share increase from 56 to 58, and English-language television stations saw viewership rise 5.6 percent

to 543,000. The gains for English-language stations accounted for an overall 3.2 percent hike in local broadcast television viewership to 715,000.

Benavides and other local broadcast market watchers said the falloff in the audiences for Spanish-language radio and television stations is a result of several trends converging: a slowdown in Spanish-speaking immigrants entering the region; assimilation of second- and third-generation Spanish-speaking families who now choose English-language stations as their first preference; migration of young Spanish-speakers to streaming and social media platforms; and a generally slow response from broadcast media to adapt their programming to the tastes of Spanish-speaking audiences under 35.

The trends are a challenge for local Spanish-language broadcasters, according to Laura Castañeda, a professor with the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism.

“The audiences for local Spanish-language broadcast stations – especially television – are skewing older as younger people look elsewhere,” Castañeda said. “Now is really the time to figure out what (Spanish-language broadcast outlets) want and try to gain market share.”

Univision’s struggles

Univision has been hit the hardest. On the radio side, Univision’s four stations – KLVE, KRCD/KRCV 98.3/103.9 FM, and KSCA 101.9 FM –cumulatively dropped to an 8.8 audience share from 11.3 a year ago.

Univision’s flagship TV station, KMEX Channel 34, has seen its average daily viewership plunge from 100,000 two years ago to 66,000 last month. Some of that presence shifted to KVEA Channel 52, operated by rival Telemundo and owned by NBCUniversal, which saw its viewership rise 10 percent to 55,000; others shifted out of broadcast television entirely.

Univision’s struggles to retain and grow viewership nationally have been well-documented. The network’s reliance on programming from Mexico City-based Grupo Televisa, Mexico’s largest television network, received some of the blame.

“In today’s market, it’s difficult to appeal to the younger, U.S.-born generation with telenovelas from Mexico,” said Winter Horton, chief operating officer of Burbank-based Lieberman Broadcasting, a rival Spanish-speaking network.

Luis Patiño, president and general manager of Univision’s Los Angeles operations, said in an email to the Business Journal that the company is now implementing tactics to address changing audience preferences.

He cited several new initiatives, including a local Spanish-language newscast designed to engage Latino millennials on air and online across 11 markets, and an on-demand, online service featuring podcasts and livestream audio content.

Univision is reaching out to viewers “wherever they are, across platforms including TV and radio but also digital, social, and experiential events, through owned and operated as well as partner platforms,” Patiño said.

KBIG new No. 1

The radio side saw iHeartMedia’s KBIG 104.3 FM rise to No. 1 as its audience share grew nearly 50 percent to 6.4, lifting it from No. 6 last year. KBIG’s growth was a major factor in iHeartMedia’s overall increase in local audience share to 25 points.

Kevin LeGrett, president of both the Los Angeles market and western division for iHeartMedia, attributed the company’s strong showing on the list to a “substantial investment” over the past five years in lining up top on-air talent for its six radio stations. “We’re beginning to see the fruits of that labor pay off,” he said.

Two other iHeart Media stations rounded out the top three, with KOST 103.5 FM dropping to No. 2 and KIIS 102.7 FM remaining No. 3. CBS Radio stations KRTH 101.1 FM and KTWV 94.7 FM rounded out the top five.

The prevalence of iHeartMedia and CBS Radio ownership of local radio stations is the result of a 20-year consolidation in the industry that started with enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and has accelerated as the overall pool of radio listeners has shrunk, according to Willa Seidenberg, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School

“In a shrinking market, the large players need to get larger to keep up the same advertising revenues, while the smaller players get squeezed out,” she said.

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