Spanish-language networks want fair share of campaign ad budgets

With Latinos now accounting for approximately 10% of the U.S. electorate, Hispanic media — led by Univision, Telemundo, CNN en Espanol (CNNE) and NuvoTV — are hoping to see a bigger share of ad spending for the coming presidential election than they did in 2008, when the Obama and McCain campaigns allotted a paltry 1% of their ad budgets to Spanish-language spots.

Traditional ad buyers are already laying out more to target Latinos. “Companies are now setting aside 7% to 10% — some even 20% of their total ad budgets — for Latino media,” says Enrique Perez, Telemundo’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Politics has been a tougher sell, however. More than half of the Latino population resides in California (32%) and Texas (19%) — the former a solidly Democratic state, thelatter unwaveringly Republican — where political ads have little strategic value.

“Since neither are battleground states, there is no spending there, although I still think 1% (overall) is shockingly low,” says Gary Segura of research org Latino Decisions.

And the nominally independent SuperPACS that have emerged this election season as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling have not spent a dime on Hispanic media, despite outspending both campaigns to date.

To address this disparity, Univision has launched an unprecedented marketing effort to remind the candidates that Hispanics are a key voting bloc that will define the presidential election, especially in swing states.

Under the slogan, “The question isn’t whether they’ll have a voice. The question is whether they will hear yours,” it urges politicians to pay close attention to the Latino electorate.

Univision CEO Randy Falco took to influential website Politico to write about the issue. “Roughly 14 million Hispanics are expected to vote in 2012,” he pointed out. In 2008, Hispanics represented 38% of the vote in New Mexico, 15% in Florida, and 13% in Colorado. A total of 67% of the Latino electorate voted for Obama that historic year, with the Democrats taking all three states, all of which had gone Republican in 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry.

In May, Telemundo co-sponsored a national poll with NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showing Obama to be leading Romney among Latino voters, 61% to 27%.

With a larger percentage of 18-to-29-year-olds than seen in the general public, the Latino electorate features a youth demographic that typically is difficult to reach, particularly when it comes to political messages. “They have more distractions in their lives and perhaps are not as interested in politics,” says Mark Hugo Lopez of research org Pew Hispanic Center, who says such prospective voters require more attention and targeted outreach initiatives.

This year, the Obama campaign is getting out its message early, having released three waves of Spanish-language TV and radio ads in Colorado, Nevada and Florida since April. The campaign has enlisted “Desperate Housewives” co-star Eva Longoria to be one of its 35 national co-chairs.

So far, the Romney campaign’s Spanish-language efforts have included five TV ads, four radio spots and a Web video, and a Romney campaign spokeswoman says more ads are on the way across all media platforms.

In a matter that could prove prickly for NBCU’s Telemundo, the brothers of its star anchor-journo Jose Diaz-Balart — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who preceded Mario in the district from 1993 to 2011 — are members of the Romney campaign’s National Hispanic Steering Committee. Telemundo maintains Diaz-Balart’s brothers’ support of Romney would not present a conflict of interest for the anchor, who is integral in the net’s election coverage. It issued a statement that read: “Jose Diaz-Balart, a well-regarded veteran journalist with nearly three decades of experience, as well as the entire Telemundo News team, are fully committed to producing and delivering fair, balanced, objective and relevant news and information to the Hispanic community.”

The Hispanic networks are ramping up their political coverage to focus on the campaign. Telemundo continues to strengthen its partnership ties with English-language counterpart NBC, with NBC News and Telemundo last week annoucing they had joined forces to deliver political coverage in both languages under the banner “Decision 2012,” with NBC News senior VP Alexandra Wallace expanding her responsibilities to include a more strategic role within Telemundo.

Wallace, who has been overseeing the integration of both orgs during the past year, will work closely with Telemundo’s executive VP of news & alternative programming Alina Falcon.

Telemundo’s youth-skewed sister network Mun2 has been involved in political coverage as well, participating in Telemundo’s Voto Latino voter registration drive, as well as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) town hall event on July 7.

Meanwhile, youth-targeted English-language Latino cabler NuvoTV has teamed up with NBC News’ Peacock Prods. to produce a Latino Town Hall special — “We Decide 2012″ — in front of a live audience at New York’s Rockefeller Center, slated to air in August.

“No one’s done this for Latinos in English,” says NuvoTV CEO Michael Schwimmer. “Young Latinos feel more empowered now to effect change, and the media plays a role in this.”

Moderated by NBC News’ Natalie Morales, “We Decide 2012″ will feature a panel of experts who will engage with a live audience and other participants via social media platforms.

CNN en Espanol, meanwhile, is making full use of its 24-hour block of expanded original programming to present comprehensive coverage of the elections for its subscribers in the U.S. and Latin America. While the bulk of its subs are outside the U.S., CNNE has increased its domestic subscriber base from five million to seven million since it shifted from half-hour packaged news programs to one-hour shows in 2010, says CNNE news director Willie Lora. CNNE has offered full coverage of the Texas primaries, and will cover the upcoming Latino political confab, Naleo, in June, as well as the presidential debates in October.

Ultimately, with Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Romney running neck and neck this year, Spanish-language media figures to have a growing voice in the results.

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