Telemundo and TV Azteca have failed to attract viewers in Southern California. Telemundo has taken the original production approach, TV Azteca the direct import of programming designed for Mexico City. Both approaches are no match to the eternally popular telenovelas produced by Televisa and all the shows derived from them that Univision produces.
Perhaps the main shortcoming that Telemundo and TV Azteca?s programming executives share is the fact that they don?t know or understand their audience.
In the last 15 years, the Mexican immigrant experience in Southern California has changed dramatically. Up until the 80?s the Mexican presence in Southern California was cyclical. Very few people stayed more than six months; they would come, work hard, save and go back to Mexico. They had their families and social groups there. Their primary source for popular culture/entertainment was Televisa; Univision?s programming was a natural extension of their entertainment experience. The nostalgia element worked well since they were sentimentally anchored to their hometowns.
As immigration controls tightened, many of these cyclical immigrants became permanent residents regardless of their legal status. It was at this moment that a different cultural group was born, with its own aesthetics, values, morals, dreams, political views, needs and lifestyles. Their primary language is Spanish but they are very comfortable speaking English and consuming the mainstream Anglo pop culture. Let?s call them Southern California Mexicans. This new cultural group has a very strong sense of identity that has been denied for the past 10 years, either by neglect or ignorance.
A majority of the Southern California Mexican population has become middle class in the financial sense; they have established credit histories, consume, and represent a sizable market that will continue to grow for the next 30 to 40 years. Socially and culturally this new middle class is searching for definition. Its image and identity is still evolving.
The middle class in Mexico has been defined by the mass media (Televisa) for the past 50 years. It is natural to assume then that the mass media in Southern California will have a big role in defining this new middle class. Whether it will be the Spanish language or the English language media, is still to be seen.
The Mexican idiosyncrasy is complex. Mexican culture and media has been extremely centrist, the vast majority of intellectual, artistic, political and economical output is generated in Mexico City. In contrast, the vast majorities of Southern California Mexican are not from Mexico City and have a traditional resentment and distrust for Chilangos, or Mexico City Mexicans. That is why programming imported or produced by Mexico City Mexicans doesn?t work well with the Mexican immigrant population in Southern California. TV Azteca assumed that their novelas and programming would be received with open arms, yet their programming is designed for the middle class in Mexico?s big cities. The ratings in Mexico reflect this; they are not widely popular but have a strong following.
Televisa?s novelas should not be included in this case as they are so entrenched in the culture that they will be popular for many more years. They have been repeating the same formula, similar stars, settings and storyline, that any novela that doesn?t conform to the format will have a very hard time getting a welcoming reception with the audience. To try to copy them or offer a better version is an exercise in futility.
The cultural differences between Mexico City and the rest of the country are sometimes as diverse and as great as they are between Anglo American and Latino cultures.
The common denominator among the Southern California Mexican population is the fact that they emigrated in search of a better life. Upward mobility in Mexico is almost non-existent. A poor person with no connections is more likely than not to remain poor and with no connections regardless of how hard they study and work. Opportunities for economic and social mobility are just not existent.
Rural immigrants from Mexico who move to Southern California enjoy a standard of living they could only dream of in Mexico. Many of them come from small villages with no running water and no paved roads. They have to take what is handed down to them economically, culturally, and socially because of their financial status. They have no voice, no power.
Once they become Southern California Mexicans, they work hard and their efforts and sacrifices will be rewarded. They have earned their voice. They want to be recognized, catered to, and respected. And when they are not they take their business elsewhere.
They are no longer cultural and economical serfs; they are what in the Hispanic tradition are known as ?Hidalgo? or ?hijo de algo?, free men in Western Europe, bourgeoisie, middle class.
The Spanish language programming model for the past 40 years was to import programming from Mexico. Since the migration was cyclical this model worked, you could continue watching the same shows you were watching in Mexico. You wanted to know what was happening in Mexico because you were going back soon. In the past few years Univision has continued to exploit this model. This model is based in the popularity of the Televisa novelas and unless you have access to them it would be foolish to follow it. This model has worked and it?ll probably continue working for a couple of years more. But if Univision were to lose it?s exclusivity or access to these programs, their ratings would surely drop, because its programming executives also don?t know the audience.
What is definitely changing in this model is the audience. It?s documented that the Latino population is younger than its Anglo counterpart. This population is more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than their parents were. They are integrating to the American culture but are assimilating in a much different fashion than the other major immigration groups from the beginning of the last century.
The Southern California Latino middle class is younger, hipper and more sophisticated than it?s actually recognized. They are hungry for entertainment, they are willing to pay $50 dollars for a concert ticket and spend more than that in a night club. They feel the condescension that programming from Miami and Mexico has for them. Every time a local celebrity from LA such as Lupillo Rivera, Adan Sanchez, etc. goes to Miami?s Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco makes a funny comment about their hats and outfits. Again Mexican idiosyncrasy is very special; people are extremely susceptible to certain comments and are easily offended.
Univision youth oriented program ?Otro Rollo? not once has invited a guest from Southern California, and all of their jokes and comedy skits are localized.
Telemundo boasts that their original programming is designed for the US Latino audience, but their novelas are produced in Argentina or Colombia. Their Texas experiment was wrong in many levels and the ratings prove it. Chiefly, you can not pass a Venezuelan for Mexican. Arepas and tortillas, while being very similar, baked corn discs, are not the same.
The programming that has been produced in Los Angeles has had varied success. KRCA targets a very specific segment, and the ratings seem to reflect audience preference. But most Southern California Mexicans resent the aggressive, violent, crass image that KRCA works so hard to achieve.
Programs like ?Cuanto cuesta el show? worked well when they started. However, the fact that it was never actualized and failed to produce a verifiable star can be attributed to it?s failing in the last years that it aired.
While there is no easy formula to produce popular programming and deliver the audience that advertisers want, the objective for any programming executive should be to develop local production with producers that understand and know the audience.