Between World Cup buzz and a pair of hit novelas, it's been a very, very good summer for Spanish-language network Univision.
Last week, Univision was tied with ABC as the number-two broadcast network among the key adults 18-49 demographic, with an average 1.5 rating/5 share.
And that's not all. Its strong performance was led by the "2010 Premios Juventud" awards show -- which beat all four of the major broadcast networks on Thursday night.
Overall, 11.4 million viewers watched all or part of the annual youth-focused awards show, in its seventh year.
And while the network has long been competitive among viewers 18-49 on Friday nights, this summer it's been regularly beating some of the major broadcast networks in the category on other nights of the week.
As of July 22, it has beaten NBC and Fox for three straight Monday nights. It beat CBS on Tuesdays for five straight weeks. Both CBS and ABC have lost to Univision on Wednesdays for three straight weeks.
Univision president Cesar Conde said the channel's summer success as an indication that Univision is ready to compete with the TV industry's top dogs.
“Our consistent performance clearly demonstrates that we are a top competitor in the media landscape today, regardless of language, and we are very proud of our position in the market ... we are focused on building on this success and driving growth in the media industry," Conde said.
Lisa Torres, an executive vice president at the media agency MPG who has specialized in buying ad space for Spanish-language commercials for 20 years, describes Univision's recent growth as a "gamechanger."
"For me, it sort of validates what we've always been saying in the Spanish-language space, that Univision is as big as the other networks," Torres said.
She's right. So far, Univision ranks right behind Fox as the number-two broadcast network for the July sweeps period to date among adults 18-49. Among adults 18-34, it stands as the number-one broadcast network of the period.
The network's strong month has also been aided by the emergence of two new telenovelas -- "Hasta El Dinero Nos Separe" ("Until Money Do Us Part") and "Soy Tu Duena" ("I'm Your Boss Lady").
"Separe," a remake of a Colombian soap opera, debuted April 26. "Duena," about a rich woman who becomes bitter and lashes out at those around her after being left at the altar, debuted June 1. Both are in the traditional telenovela format and air on Univision five nights a week.
Then there's the World Cup, which helped the network kick off the summer with record-setting ratings. Univision had the exclusive U.S., Spanish-language rights to the soccer tournament, providing its most-watched broadcast of all time: the second round match between Mexico and Argentina June 27 with over 9.4 million total viewers.
It beat out the network's previous record holder, the 2007 finale of the novela "Destilando Amor."
Univision also brought in big numbers for the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, which was watched by 8.8 million total viewers, making it the network's third most-watched broadcast of all-time. That match brought in 50 percent more viewers for this year's World Cup championship match than for the previous Cup final between France and Italy in 2006.
Summer is generally a good time for Spanish-language broadcasters because it airs first-run programming all year, and the Big Four generally resort to reruns from June through August. However, this summer season has been especially good for Univision-- to date, the network's 2010 July sweeps ratings are up about 9 percent from the same period in 2009.
Overall, Univision's ratings are down slightly for the year, but longer trends indicate growth in the key demographic that has traditionally been the domain of the major English-language broadcasters.
For the Big Four, the adults 18-49 demographic is the coveted target audience and the standard measure of ratings success. Spanish-language networks generally focus on the 18-34 demo and perform slightly better in that group because Hispanic population in the U.S. skews younger than the rest of the country.
At Univision, the target demo is 18-34, but much of the recent gains have come from the Big Four's home turf -- the 18-49s. Over the last decade, Univision gained more viewers in the 18-49 demographic than any other network.
According to Torres, observers in the general advertising market "tend to negate" Univision's summer numbers because the season is usually strong for Spanish-language television. "It's happened before and during prime season, it's not a fluke, this is not the only time they've ever beat the networks," Torres said.
Ingrid Reyes, a media buyer with Mindshare agrees with Torres that mainstream advertisers haven't paid enough attention to Univision. "Univision has always sort of been the 800-pound gorilla in the Spanish-language marketplace," Reyes said.
Indeed, the big question for the network is whether it can turn those big numbers into ad dollars.
Though Reyes and Torres both think Univision is increasingly getting attention with their ratings growth, they don't expect the channel's strong summer performance to have a major impact on ad spending, at least not in the short run.
"It can be the beginning of the change, but at the end of the day ... an advertiser needs to make a concerted effort to target the Latino audience because their spot would have to be in Spanish," said Torres, who said she has received calls from clients who noticed Univision's success of late. But, she adds: "I don't think they're going to solely make that decision on the fact that Univision is doing well, but it's definitely one of the factors."
For her part, Reyes thinks the results of the recent U.S. census will do more to get advertisers interested in spending money with Spanish-language networks than ratings ever could. The census is expected to show explosive growth among America's Latino population.
"I think the census is going to be thing that makes advertisers jump in," Reyes said.
Mainstream advertisers might not be rushing to move their ad spend to Univision just yet, but the channel's rising ratings and the rising Hispanic population point to a bright future for the network. As Univision's core demographic continues to grow, the channel may start to see their revenues climbing as fast as their ratings.