Spanish language television: why such limited programming?

I’ve got a bunch of Spanish-language channels on my cable system. About 80% of progrmming on networks like Telemundo, Galavision and Univision are:

  1. Variety shows.
  2. Soap operas.
  3. Soccer.

When I lived close to the Mexican border some years ago, all the Mexican over-the-air stations, and the Spanish language stations north of the Rio Grande had the same monotonous programming. Occasionally there would be a Simpsons episode dubbed into Spanish, or an old Western, but for the most part almost all programming was variety shows, soaps and soccer.

Don’t Spanish-language speakers like sitcoms? Dramas? Detective, cop, doctor or lawyer shows? Why the limited variety of programming?

Part of the problem is that Latin American TV is still a primary content provider for the US-“Hispanic” networks.

Yes, there are sitcoms, talk-shows, reality-shows, and homegrown action movies in Latin American TV – however they tend to be local phenomena, without as wide a scope as the soaps, the big variety shows and the fútbol, which ARE international, get a lot of ratings, and generate such a high return-on-investment there is no incentive to change what works.

Imagine, if you will, if the big networks in the USA only provided the NBA games, the big-hit Reality Shows, and the big-hit sitcoms; while everything else: movies-of-the-week, home improvement shows, police/lawyer dramas, late-night talk, Sunday political shows, etc, had to be independently produced locally by WTVC, WBAL, KDVR, KIRO, etc. The loss of the economy-of-scale that the NY/LA-based networks and studios provide would result in that a lot of those local markets would just NOT produce the alternate programming at all. They’d just buy stuff off the syndication market or from the BBC.

Which in the case of Latin America means, if you want an action-mystery show, you can either raise hundreds of thou per episode of cash you don’t have to produce something mediocre, or buy an entire season of Spanish-dubbed X-Files for less than what one ep of homegrown costs; you want a cartoon, you can either produce something that will look cheap or you can buy an entire season of dubbed Pokémon.

And evidently, if your audience has grown used to this style of TV over years in the old countries, when they come to the USA your sales potential is in giving them the same as they had back home. Soaps, fútbol and a combination variety-comedy-game show with a chatty host and babeous hostesses.

Which is not to say the “US Hispanic” networks are not evolving – they now have an ever increasing number of other genres such as Today-like morning-chat shows (Despierta América), Opra-Springeresque trash-talk shows (Cristina, Laura en América), “People’s Court” style shows, “Current Affair”-style Tab-TV shows (Al Rojo Vivo). Many of these, indeed, produced IN the USA rather than imported, since as succeeding younger generations come of age and acquire spending power, they start demanding Spanish-language programming that more closely resemble the quality and content of the US-network programming.

(Interesting detail: Puerto Rico, being sorta half-USA, half-Latin Am, used to have a lot of homegrown sitcom production, and have whole years go by with little or no soap-opera production; but now that the big US “Hispanic” networks are moving in, we’re getting… you guessed it: more soaps, less sitcoms)

In fairness, a lot of the “soaps” are more comical and less dramatic. Sure, you’ve got your Amigas y Rivales, but you’ve also got stuff like Vivan los niños and Carita de angel that, while soapy-ish, are not so much dramatic as they are funny. Granted, they may be targeted towards a younger audience, but the line between soap and sitcom is not as rigid as you might think.

  • Rick

As far as I can tell, WIIH in Indianapolis is no less diverse than is WISH (its English-language partner). The major difference is that WISH is CBS while WIIH is Univision. Any real “diversity” in programming for either is locally produced.

There are more programs already on american english tv. English programs offer spanish audio or spanish closed captioned streams. One is SAP (secondary audio programming in spanish?) & Jay Leno offers a second spanish captioning stream if you change your captioning setting. I wish spanish programs would offer english captioning.