NEW YORK — Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications touted something that its English-language broadcast rivals cannot: Prime-time ratings at its flagship TV network, Univision, have grown 7% during the current season.
Ratings gains in an era of shrinking TV audiences are uncommon as major broadcasters struggle to maintain their standing. Cable channels, social media and advances in technology — including digital video recorders — continue to nibble away at viewership, particularly among younger audiences.
But executives representing Univision, the country's fifth-largest television network, said that much like the Latino population, its viewership was young, growing and steadily advancing on the establishment.
"We beat NBC on 195 nights in prime time," Univision's ad sales chief, David Lawenda, boasted to a crowd of advertisers Tuesday at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York. "There is a new American reality."
The 2010 census found that there are now more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S., making it the nation's fastest-growing demographic group. Increasingly, marketers are zeroing in on the potency of the Latino market, which some estimate represents about $1 trillion a year in buying power.
Univision's message, "Latinos live here," came on the second day of the broadcast TV industry's biggest week of the year. The networks — NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS and others — are unveiling their new fall schedules to advertisers with the hopes of whetting their appetites for the springtime sales bazaar known as the upfront market. Later this month and in June, advertisers will negotiate more than $9 billion in commitments for prime-time commercials on the major networks for the upcoming season.
Univision has long labored to increase its share of the pie.
A consortium of private investors, including Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, acquired Univision in 2007 in a leveraged buyout. Last year, the company generated revenue of $2.27 billion, with its television networks contributing the bulk, nearly $1.9 billion.
To increase revenue, the company has been on a building binge. This year it plans to introduce three new cable channels: one dedicated to salacious prime-time soaps, one for news and another for sports.
Last week it announced that it was forming a joint venture with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC News to create a 24-hour English-language cable news channel targeted at bilingual and English-speaking Latinos.
"Our viewers are evolving, our society is changing, and we are a company that is transforming," said Cesar Conde, president of Univision Networks. "We are the Hispanic heartbeat of America — everywhere and on every platform."
Univision's challenge has long been to convince advertisers that its appeal extends beyond Spanish speakers in an effort to boost its commercial rates. Advertisers place more value on upwardly mobile bilingual and English-speaking viewers.
Tuesday, Univision executives stressed that many of its viewers were not only bilingual but also technologically savvy and young. The median age of its audience is 36 — a decade younger than that of Fox Broadcasting and at least 14 years younger than the median age of the audiences for NBC, ABC and CBS.
Much of the network's appeal, particularly in prime time, are the melodramatic telenovelas produced by Grupo Televisa of Mexico. Several new Televisa telenovelas will launch next season, including "Pora Ella Soy Eva" ("For her, I'm Eva"), which Conde described as "The Fugitive" meets "Tootsie." The network hopes the show, with a cross-dressing lead actor, will have crossover appeal.
Univision also has extended its deal to broadcast the Latin Grammys for at least eight more years. Additionally, the company unveiled UVideos as a digital platform for its programming and a related application for Facebook users. Consumers will be able to access Univision programming on the site as well as original Webnovelas, including one featuring Mexican star Kate del Castillo.
In a nod to the increasing appeal of Latino culture in the mainstream, one of ABC's biggest stars, Sofia Vergara from the hit comedy "Modern Family" took to the stage Tuesday to endorse Univision. The former model from Colombia said she was a regular on Univision in the mid-1990s, co-hosting a show called "Fuera de Serie" ("Over the Top").
"I might work someplace else but this is where I live," Vergara, wearing a skin-tight leopard-print dress, told the crowd. "Univision is my home."
James reported from Los Angeles and Villarreal from New York.