BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you watch Spanish-language TV, you've probably tuned into a station owned by Univision. With about a hundred stations and affiliates to its name, Univision's programming reaches about 80 percent of the Latinos living in this country. Compare that to the biggest English language media owner, Viacom, which reaches about 40 percent of the national audience. And now it looks like the Spanish language media Goliath is about to get even bigger.
BOB GARFIELD:This week, FCC officials said they would give the green light to a 3 billion dollar merger between Univision and Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation -- the nation's biggest Spanish language radio network. The approval came over the protests of critics who say the deal essentially hijacks the Spanish language media market. But Univision says there's no such thing as a separate Spanish language market because most Latino viewers channel hop between Spanish and English stations. Earlier this year, political scientist Louis DeSipio conducted a study for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute that suggests the truth lies somewhere in between. Louis, welcome to the show.
LOUIS DeSIPIO: My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: So you looked at bilingual viewers in a few different cities and you tried to draw conclusions about what Latinos as a universe are watching. What did you find out?
LOUIS DeSIPIO: Well the first thing we found is that Latinos are using both English and Spanish language television and using them pretty regularly. And we found that what distinguishes their viewing is the programming content. Bilingual Latino viewers, for example, are quite likely to be watching their news in Spanish. Entertainment programming, on the other hand, is very frequently watched in English, and the viewers include Latinos that don't have very extensive English language skills. So clearly they're sort of overcoming some barriers in order to watch English language entertainment programming. Sports is overwhelmingly watched in Spanish. Soap operas are probably the most popular programming choice, and those are watched in Spanish.
BOB GARFIELD:What in the news particularly is missing from English language broadcasts that bilingual viewers are able to find in the Spanish news broadcasts?
LOUIS DeSIPIO: Spanish language news programs cover the Latino community more and probably better. They also cover Latin America more, and these are topics that are of interest to Latinos generally and acculturated Latinos as well.
BOB GARFIELD:Let's get back to the proposed merger between Univision and the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation. It would seem that, that this study answers one of the central questions that has been fueling the controversy over the deal -- Univision's contention that there really isn't such thing as a separate Latino market because Latinos watch stations all over the dial!
LOUIS DeSIPIO: You're absolutely right. I think our data absolutely confirm that.
BOB GARFIELD: But these Spanish stations clearly are targeting Latinos - I mean it's not like they're producing programming for non-Spanish speakers, so the concentration issue isn't entirely immaterial, is it?
LOUIS DeSIPIO: No. You know where I think it's particularly an issue is in the news programming. I mean that one area that we've identified as being particularly important to acculturated Latinos in the United States. The news programming, particularly on television, is overwhelmingly coming out of Univision and its affiliates and I think there is the risk, potentially, down the road that if Univision chose to have a particular political perspective, that would be seen at least by the overwhelming majority of Latinos. That said, they have the choice of getting alternative views if they don't agree with what they're seeing on a Univision affiliate.
BOB GARFIELD:Opponents of the merger have made a lot of the substantial support that executives at both Univision and the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation have given to the Republican Party historically, and more recently to President Bush's re-election campaign. Is there not a legitimate fear that the programming on a combined network would come off as overtly pro-Republican or pro-administration or in any event, not unbiased?
LOUIS DeSIPIO: Univision as a corporation has certainly contributed to the Republicans and to President Bush, but they've also been very supportive of issues of concern in Latino communities, for instance opposition to Proposition 187 in California -- the 1994 ballot initiative around services for undocumented immigrants. So I think they're smart capitalists at some level. They understand that there are broad community concerns that they probably can't counter.
BOB GARFIELD:Is it possible that the critical mass created by this merger will actually allow someone to invest in original programming produced in the United States that hitherto had not been produced because simply nobody could afford it?
LOUIS DeSIPIO: There's that potential, but I don't think Univision or Telemundo for that matter have really shown a great interest in producing original programming. Where this comes through in some of our survey work is in terms of children's programming. Parents continually complain over a series of surveys over the last few years that there simply isn't Spanish language programming targeted at their children. The long term consequence of that is, is really deleterious for the Spanish broadcasters, cause they're not producing sort of the next generation of an audience for adult programming.
BOB GARFIELD: If Spanish broadcasters to this point have not cultivated younger viewers, is that necessarily a bad thing?
LOUIS DeSIPIO:Well I think in this case the kids are just watching English language TV in Latino households, so I don't, I don't think the lack of programming has kept them away from the power of television.
BOB GARFIELD: Pity. Well, Louis [LAUGHS] - thank you so much.
LOUIS DeSIPIO: [LAUGHS] My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:Louis DeSipio is a professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine and author of the report Channel Surfing in English and Spanish. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the pitfalls of single factor analysis and how Chile's media mogul helped foment a coup.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from NPR.