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Univision: Media Gigante Put On Notice

Frank Ahrens

Over the weekend, I wrote that the Federal Communications Commission is readying to slap Spanish-language media giant Univision with a record $24 million fine for trying to pass off telenovelas as kids' programming.

Two things about this:

a) Univision's growing reach and potential influence over Spanish-speaking media consumers is unmatched in the Anglo media landscape and it is remarkable, really, that the FCC and the Department of Justice have allowed Univision to exist as it does. In any market where Univision owns a television station, for instance, it is likely to get 90 percent -- 90 percent! -- of the audience on a given night. Univision also owns the biggest Spanish-language radio chain and three music labels.

Here's how it would compare in the Anglo media world, which is closely policed by the FCC and media advocacy groups that worry about Big Media consolidation: Fox's "American Idol" gets 30 million viewers per episode. The No. 2 show after, often ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," will get about 25 million. If Fox were Univision and the pool of viewers was 100 million, "Idol" would get 90 million viewers and "Grey's" would get 10 million. To continue the analogy, Fox would also own Clear Channel's radio stations and Universal Music's many record labels. That feds would never allow that.

b) Spanish-language broadcasters (Univision, NBC Universal's Telemundo, Azteca) have gone largely unpoliced by the FCC. This could be the start of a crackdown, not only on programming requirements but also on indecency. The FCC has issued a couple of fines to Spanish-speaking radio stations for indecency, but it's rare. I have read the (translated) material, and it's as raunchy, if not more, than anything Howard Stern has been fined for.

Why has such a media giant flown largely under the radar? Some theories: Not enough people at the FCC speak Spanish. The Spanish-language audience is well-served by consolidation and does not mind. The audience is not offended by the potentially indecent material. The audience does not know how to file a complaint at the FCC.

By Frank Ahrens  |  February 26, 2007; 12:10 PM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
Previous: A FON way to challenge Starbucks | Next: Digital 'Fair Use' Bill Introduced In Congress

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I'm glad that the FCC has not bullied the Spanish language media into compliance with the narrow, self-righteous definitions of indecent material pushed by fundamentalist Christians. Fortunately, most of them don't speak Spanish (though that may change since more Latinos are joining evangelical, conservative Protestant churches).

As for Univision's market share dominance: ever since Michael Powell slept through his FCC chairmanship (and maybe even before), the commission hasn't cared much about preventing consolidation of media ownership in fewer hands. I bet plenty of corporate media moguls secretly applaud Univision's near monopoly and wish it could happen for their pet English language network.

Posted by: SSMD | February 26, 2007 1:18 PM

In addition to greater oversight by the FCC, more thorough reviews of advertising on Spanish-language television by the FTC and other governmental agencies is required. To cite a few examples, one common ad frequently run by a long-distance calling company advertises international phone rates that are 1/10th of the amount actually charged to customers when they use the service. From my experience, the necessary disclaimers or notices are not present in such ads. Also, medicinal products are frequently advertised to produce results that I sincerely doubt would pass FDA muster if they were published on English-language stations.

Posted by: EH | February 26, 2007 1:33 PM

The article is about Univision lying to the FCC and the federal government with regards to funding. That is the only issue here.

It appears to me if the people marketed by the Univision entered the country illegally; broke basic law; the attitude is what laws actually matter or are worth upholding reside within the service provider and their clients. To me this is what lies at the center of the illegal immigration issue. If you woill break one law to get here, what laws will you break while here ans to stay here?

With an Attorney General with the name Alberto Gonzales; of questionable origins himself by his own description, does not admit how his parents arrived in America or his own status for that matter; it is no wonder why the US government does not actively enforce the immigration laws in America.

Posted by: Patrick | February 26, 2007 3:38 PM

Let's see... in response to a license challenge to Univision, the FCC chooses not to rescind any licenses. Instead, they levy a $24 million fine ... this against a company which posted $2.17 Billion in revenue in 2006, $349 million of that pure profit.
Pretty good business deal: Flaunt FCC policies, get a slap on the hand, and go along your merry way.
Anybody betting Univision will actually change the way they do business?

Posted by: Sue Wilson | February 26, 2007 3:59 PM

If such a large share of listeners has not yet been "harmed" by the terrible sounds emanating from Univision outlets, then why in the world would there suddenly be a need for the FCC nannies to come a-callin? If it aint broke, don't fix it.

Posted by: JB | February 26, 2007 10:44 PM

I can't understand why anyone watches Univision. It's all soap operas. I have to think there is not much competition from the other Spanish TV stations in the form of better quality programming. Once in a great while there will be an interesting program which I'll watch but generally there is nothing worthwhile except possibly the news. But if that's all there is and you only speak Spanish you are stuck.

Posted by: neb | February 27, 2007 2:32 PM

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