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Ay Caramba!
Spanish-Language TV Just as Risqué as English-Language Fare

By Lucia Alzaga


During the 1990s, the Hispanic population in the U.S. grew by 58 percent nationwide.  But while Hispanic-Americans constitute a growing percentage of TV households, little attention has been paid to the content of the programs targeted specifically to that audience.  According to Nielsen Media Research, the audience - even among young people - for Spanish-language television continues to grow.  By contrast, audiences for the major English-language broadcast television networks are shrinking.  Given that more and more American children are growing up watching, and being influenced by, the programs offered on Spanish-language networks (primarily Telemundo and Univision), the programming offered by those networks warrants careful examination. 

Telemundo and Univision are no fringe networks.  Viewing of Spanish-language television by U.S. Hispanic audiences accounts for 49% of their total prime time viewing of advertiser-supported television.  Univision reaches more than 97% of U.S. Hispanic television households; Telemundo reaches 91% of those households. 

The PTC examined three weeks (June 3rd through June 23rd, 2003) of prime time programming (8-11 p.m. ET/PT) on the two biggest commercial Spanish-language networks, Univision and Telemundo. The study period covered 99 separate shows over a period of 104 hours of programming.

Major Findings:

  • Both Univision and Telemundo are substantially less violent than English-language networks.  Univision featured 1.31 instances of violence per hour, while Telemundo featured 1.81 instances per hour. (For reference, in the Special Report TV Bloodbath, the PTC documented a per-hour average of 4.56 instances of violence during prime time on the six major broadcast networks.)

  • Sexual content in both networks is comparable to that of English-language networks. Univision included 4.34 sexual references per hour, while Telemundo 3.74. (For reference, in the Special Report Sex Loses its Appeal, the PTC documented an average of 4.59 instances of sexual content per hour during prime time on the broadcast networks.)

  • There is significantly less foul language on Spanish-language television during prime time than on its English-language counterparts. Univision registered 0.41 profanities per hour, while Telemundo's programming averaged only 0.32. (The PTC documented an average of 6.62 instances of foul language per hour on the six broadcast networks during the prime time in The Blue Tube.)

Other Findings:

  • Of the two Spanish-language networks, Univision had the highest levels of foul language and sexual content while Telemundo had the most violent programming. 

  • The 10-11 p.m. time slot on Univision contained the most violence, with 2.06 violent instances per hour. On Telemundo, the 9-10 p.m. time slot contained the most violence (3.83 instances per hour). 

  • Special multi-hour programs like Sábado Gigante, which runs from 8-11 p.m., contained the highest levels of sexual content on Univision.  Such programs averaged 9.11 instances of sexual content per hour.  On Telemundo, the 8-9 p.m. Family Hour had the highest levels of sexual content, with 6.58 instances of sex per hour.

  • The 8-9 p.m. Family Hour on Univision contained the highest levels of foul language, an average of one profanity per hour.  Overall, Telemundo had far fewer profanities, and such language occurred with the greatest frequency (0.54 instances per hour) during the 10-11 p.m. timeslot.

  • The highest levels of sexual content occurred on the popular variety show Sábado Gigante on Univision, and the adolescent-oriented telenovela Los Teens on Telemundo.

Overall, Spanish-language TV contains less offensive content than the six major U.S. broadcast networks, but that doesn't mean the prime time programming on Telemundo and Univision is appropriate for family audiences.  Several popular programs airing on Telemundo and Univision can be extremely offensive. 

Shows like Univision's Sábado Gigante -- the longest-running weekly TV program in history -- is overflowing with raunchy jokes, women in skimpy clothes, and vulgarity.

Telemundo does not do much better. In its attempts to adjust its programming formats to suit an American palate, Telemundo blends the traditional telenovela format with teen elements, producing a hybrid such as Los Teens. This show was so charged with sexual dialogues that it almost looked like an irresponsible and flawed course in sexual education, a syllabus filled with double standards and misconceptions.

Overall, Spanish-language networks seem to favor all that is shocking and sensationalistic, either with telenovelas and general interest shows such as Univision's Casos de la Vida Real, Aquí y Ahora, or Telemundo's Ripley's and specials such as Carnaval do Brasil.

It is sad that Spanish networks knowing that Hispanic families tend to watch TV together, refuse to raise the bar and don't have anything better to offer them than loud and off-color programming. Sponsors, knowing that Hispanic families sit together in front of the TV set, should support programs with deeper and more responsible content that encourage family dialogue in a productive manner. It would be commendable if popular icons such as Don Francisco, who already have an incredible following, abandoned their tendency to impudence and used their image and position to promote more wholesome entertainment.

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