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Ownership and Economics

Ownership and Economics

Economics

If the audience for the ethnic media is massive, is there also massive potential for economic gain? The data suggest that the answer is both yes and no. Different ethnicities often mean different languages, which often means fragmented audiences. While it is true that news organizations and their economics have often been defined by local markets, they do need some sort of critical mass, a certain amount of geographic concentration.

Until 2005, the Spanish-language media provided the only real exception to that rule because of their audience’s common language. Spanish-speakers from Cuba in Florida, or from Puerto Rico in New York, or from Mexico in Texas and California can all watch Univision or Telemundo. Print circulations can be aggregated and ads can be sold on a national scale.

But 2005 witnessed something new: the cable company Comcast took a step toward nationalizing the Asian-American media market. In January, the company announced it was going to “rebrand and reprogram” its International Channel Networks, a collection of channels devoted to programming in different languages. It would now focus just on Asian-Americans under a new name AZN Television.

The station is a hybrid native-language outlet. It offers programming for a pan-Asian audience in English that is aimed in particular at the young — “prime time programming in English, you know your language,” says one advertisement. But it also offers films and TV shows in Manadarin, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Korean and Vietnamese.

That a company with the national reach of Comcast has created an “Asian programming” channel suggests that the mainstream media companies are beginning to recognize the broader ethnic market as one they want to tap. But the effort has already run into some problems. In late 2005, Comcast announced it was restructuring the network and cutting its staff by about 30, roughly half.1 Still, AZN is a move with potentially large implications for the future of ethnic media ownership (more on that later in this section).

The financial potential, however, still trails far behind the Spanish-language outlets. AZN is an experiment that exists only on cable and through one provider. The Spanish-language media are the most mature ethnic sector today and the only one that offers any kind of real, nationalized financial data.

Spanish-Language Media

The Spanish-language newspaper industry offers a fairly solid sense of the financial picture. The Latino Print Network collects the data, though much of it is self-reported and un-audited and therefore has not been substantiated. The information, however, is the only set of nationalized economic data.

Going by those figures, 2004 was another good year financially for Spanish-language newspapers. Despite declines in print circulation, overall ad revenues were up for daily, weekly and less-than-weekly newspapers, climbing to $923 million from $854 million in 2003, an increase of 8%.2

The biggest growth came in the 317 weekly papers the Latino Print Network studies. Those went from $282 million in ad revenue in 2003 to $324 million in 2004.3 On the whole, that meant weekly papers accounted for 35% of all ad revenues among Spanish-language newspapers in 2004, up from 33% in 2003. But 42 daily Spanish-language newspapers still made up the bulk of ad revenues by far, 61% of the whole in 2004.4

Hispanic Newspaper Ad Revenues by Publication Category, 2003 vs. 2004
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Kirk Whisler & Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, CA

Who is doing the advertising in Spanish-language newspapers? The figures from the Latino Print Network show that national ad dollars are a relatively modest source of revenue for daily and weekly newspapers. Local ads made up 82% of the total for Hispanic papers in 2004 (90% of which were published in Spanish), but 84% in 2003.5 But the differences between national and local are greater when the ad distribution is broken down by publication cycle.

In 2004, a full 20% of the ads in daily Hispanic newspapers (96% of which published in Spanish) were national, according to the Latino Print Network and Kirk Whisler. The amount of national ads also grew in weeklies in 2004, from 16% to 17%. In less-than-weekly papers, the amount of national ad dollars actually declined, from 28% in 2003 to 14% in 2004, though the dollar amounts are so much smaller in those papers that a small change in cash equals a big change in percentage.6

Newspapers weren’t alone in having a successful 2004 in Spanish-language media. The Hispanic broadcaster Univision saw its net income rise by $100 million — or more than 60% — to $255.9 million.7 And the company announced that revenues and income were up again through the first nine months of 2005.

Figures for the other large Spanish-language broadcaster, Telemundo, are difficult to find. Telemundo, as a subsidiary of NBC and a part of GE, does not release it figures separately. Reports come in bits and pieces in GE documents. For instance, a second-quarter GE financial report noted that Telemundo had signed a deal with Wal-Mart TV to produce Spanish-language segments for in-store channels.

Ownership

The biggest news about ethnic media ownership didn’t emerge until the beginning of 2006, as the Spanish-language broadcast giant Univision announced it was putting itself up for sale. The company owns and operates 62 television stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico and has branches in cable, radio and the Internet. If and when it is sold it would be a powerful tool for its new owner in an attempt to reach Spanish-speakers in the U.S., and the companies expressing interest were among the nation’s largest media operations, including News Corp., Time Warner, Disney and CBS.

Univision and Telemundo continue to be the dominant owners in Spanish-language television, with Univision far out front. With its 62 owned stations and more than 90 affiliates, it reaches 98% of U.S. Hispanic households.8

If the company is ultimately sold to one of the mainstream companies that seem to make up the bulk of the early interested parties, it would raise some serious questions for Spanish-language TV in the U. S. Would such an owner mean less Spanish-language TV production and more translated programs from the parent company? Would such ownership lead to an infusion of cash that would allow Univision to strengthen its grip on the market? Would English-language programming make it into Univision’s lineup as a way to build brand loyalty as second- and third-generation Hispanics switch over to English-language TV?

In the end, many analysts believe that if the company is sold it may well go to private equity firms looking for an investment. Large mainstream media companies potentially face problems because of federal regulations that limit overall ownership to stations that reach 39% of the nation’s television households.

After some large shakeups in the year before, 2005 was quieter again for ethnic print media. There were no large-scale mergers on a par with 2004’s uniting of La Opinion in Los Angeles, El Diario in New York and La Raza in Chicago, which made ImpreMedia the giant of Hispanic newspapers.

But ImpreMedia didn’t sit completely still. In October, it launched the Domingo Network, a free Sunday edition in the three largest cities where it has papers already. The Sunday papers are delivered to 650,000 targeted homes in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.9 The edition provides “the largest print vehicle in the top three Hispanic markets,” the company says, and aims at Latino women and households. And ImpreMedia purchased two more newspapers for its stable — El Mensajero, a weekly in the San Francisco Bay area with a circulation of 112,000, and La Prensa, a weekly in central Florida with about 50,000. The company’s weekly distribution is now 1.9 million.10

There were signs that more mainstream outlets were taking serious note of the growth of Spanish-language print outlets. In the face of falling circulations, many media companies have made forays into the ethnic media world as a way to offset lost readers.

In Boston, the well-known alternative weekly the Phoenix made a move to buy into the growing Spanish-language market by purchasing a 35% stake in El Planeta, the largest Hispanic weekly in the area. El Planeta, just launched in 2004, publishes four editions in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with a fifth slated for Connecticut .11

In magazines, several established companies and well-known titles launched Spanish-language editions in 2005. Time Warner test-launched Sports Illustrated Latino in April and distributed three issues during the year to half a million Hispanic households, subscribers to People en Espanol or to Comcast/Time Warner Hispanic programming packages. The struggling hip-hop magazine The Source launched Source Latino in May.

And investors are still looking at Spanish-language print outlets as a place for their money, though the market may be cooling off. In early 2005 Meximerica Media, which publishes the Rumbo chain of newspapers in Texas , looked to be in trouble when its original financial backers, Recoletos Grupo de Comunicacion of Spain , pulled out. In June, though, Meximerica received an investment of $18 million from Pinto America Growth Fund and Rustic Canyon Partners.12 Pinto is a Texas-based equity fund focused on companies in the U.S. Hispanic market. Rustic Canyon is a venture-capital and private-equity fund established to invest a portion of the funds created by the recapitalization of Times Mirror (later acquired by Tribune Company).

Also in June, Publicitas-LHM, the Hispanic division of the Swiss company PubliGroupe/Publicitas Promotion Network, announced plans to build a national advertising sales platform for Rumbo and Hoy Newspapers.13 The goal was to nationalize ad sales among more Spanish-language newspapers.

There were some significant closings in the Hispanic media last year as well. Zoom media, publishers of Poder and Loft magazines, lost its backing and shut down when the Columbian Universal group walked away. But both titles were niche publications, and their fate may not speak to the broader ethnic media climate. Both Poder, a Hispanic business magazine published in English and Spanish, and Loft, a Hispanic men’s lifestyle magazine published in English, were aimed at very targeted audiences, some of which were already served by other publications. And neither was primarily a Spanish-language outlet.

The biggest ownership issue for some ethnic print outlets may be the role the mainstream media will play in the future. Mainstream companies bought into the ethnic market because they saw potential for growth. But those struggling mainstream owners now may present some challenges. The deep pockets they have provided come with other strings.

In October of 2005, the Knight-Ridder company closed its Spanish-language weekly in the San Jose area, Nuevo Mundo, and began to distribute Fronteras de la Noticia, which is produced in Mexico. The company also announced it was selling Viet Mercury, its Vietnamese newspaper in San Jose.

If Knight Ridder is sold, what will happen to other ethnic outlets the company owns, such as El Nuevo Herald in Miami? Indeed, if the current wave of consolidation continues across the English-language side of the newspaper industry, what will happen to all those ethnic-media investments those companies have made? Much will probably depend on the specific company and even the specific market, but the net effect is that those outlets could face some turbulent times.

In the world of ethnic television, things are more stable. The creation of AZN by Comcast suggests that companies are looking for the next big wave to catch in ethnic TV, but it’s not clear whether it is a sure bet.

For many ethnic groups, the easiest form of TV transmission probably will continue to be satellite. Broadcast television demands a high density of people who speak the same language. New Skies Satellite has research showing that the number of ethnic channels moving around the globe expanded from 378 at the end of 2000 to roughly 1,000 at the end of 2003.14 And providers are offering those stations to viewers. Both DirecTV and the Dish Network offer extensive language- and ethnicity-specific programming, with Dish providing a wider ranger of options – everything from Polish to Farsi to Armenian. Both have a large number of Spanish-language options. Globecast, based in Paris, offers nearly 140 worldwide channels to viewers in the U.S. And Home2US, a satellite firm based in Virginia that was founded in 2003, now has more 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. viewing its offering of ethnic channels from around the world. Its goal is 600,000 to 700,000 subscribers by 2008.15

Summary

Looking at the whole picture, there is little question that the ethnic media are growing. Ad revenues, ratings figures and new startups show a market still relatively immune from the downward slide of much of the mainstream media. But there are some real questions on the horizon.

As large mainstream print outlets struggle, what will happen to the ethnic papers they started and/or joined with? Looking at how some circulations are falling and holding steady while others are rising in the Spanish-language press, have some markets reached maturity, while others are more dynamic? With a new Asian network in the offing, are mainstream media owners ready to try and nationalize other ethnic audiences? Or will different dialects and languages get in the way of nationalizing groups that are not Spanish-speakers?

Footnotes

1. Wallenstein, Andrew, “Comcast Reworks AZN Plan, Cuts Staff,” Reuters, December 11, 2005.

2. “Hispanic Publication Advertising Sales in 2004,” Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, Calif.

3. “Hispanic Publication Advertising Sales in 2004″ and “Hispanic Publication Advertising Sales in 2003,” Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, Calif.

4. “Hispanic Publication Advertising Sales in 2004,” Latino Print Network, Carlsbad, Calif.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Hoovers.com, Univision Communications fact sheet.

8. Univision 2005 Third-Quarter Results press release.

9. Higuera, Jonathan, Print Reorganizes, Hispanic Business.com, December 2005.

10. ImpreMedia press release, “ ImpreMedia Enters Florida Market with Purchase of La Prensa,” January 31 2006.

11. Pfeiffer, Sacha, “Phoenix Buys into El Planeta,” Boston Globe, September 1, 2005.

12. Ayala, Nancy, “ ‘Rumbo’ secures $18 Million for New Investors,” Marketing y Medios, June 13, 2005.

13. Ibid.

14. Bates, Jason, EU Broadcasting: Regional Populations Creating Demand, Via Satellite, September 1, 2005 http://www.telecomweb.com/cgi/pub/via/via09010503.html

15. Ibid.