Spanish Networks Plot 2020’s New Electoral Map

In the contentious 2020 U.S. elections, there is little doubt Hispanic Americans will play an outsized role both as a large voting bloc and as the center of a broader debate about the future of the country and immigration.

“The 2020 election is going to really be a turning point for the Latino community in this country,” NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises senior vice president of digital media Romina Rosado said.

Noticiero Univision anchors Jorge Ramos (l.) and Ilia Calderon will have a big role to play in 2020 coverage. 

Noticiero Univision anchors Jorge Ramos (l.) and Ilia Calderon will have a big role to play in 2020 coverage. 

Some of this is just plain arithmetic. “Major brands now recognize that if you are trying to sell a product to an American under the age of 40, you absolutely have to have a Hispanic strategy because it is such a young population with a median age of 28,” Rosado said. “And on the political side, it is the same. If you are a candidate and you want to reach people under the age of 40, you absolutely have to speak to the Hispanic audience, because there are 60 million of them and 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 every single month.”

Univision Digital senior political editor Carlos Chirinos agreed. “It is well-known that Hispanics are an important minority in the U.S. and their political clout is growing bigger with every election,” he said, making it more important than ever to “treat the news with a Hispanic angle.”

According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanic turnout reached a record level of 11.7 million voters in 2018, more than double the 5.6 million who voted in 2006 and triple the 2.9 million who turned out for the 1990 election.

Pew also projects Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group among voters in 2020, comprising 13% of the electorate, nearly double the 7% share they had in 2000.

To better understand how the growing Hispanic population impacts 2020 election coverage, Multichannel News decided to focus on the two major Spanish-language broadcast networks — Univision and Telemundo — and on how these networks are deploying new technologies, developing additional programming, building new facilities and covering the issues in what promises to be a landmark election.

RELATED:Next-Gen News Facility Is Here

Executives at both networks said the growing importance of Hispanics has already translated into unprecedented access to top political figures.

“We had the first exclusive interview with President Trump in Spanish-language media,” Luis Fernández, Telemundo executive vice president of network news, said. “We had the first exclusive interview with former VP Joe Biden when he entered the race. And Telemundo had the first Democratic debate with NBC News and MSNBC. It was the first time in television history that a Latino network broadcast the first debate.”

Meanwhile, major Hispanic news outlets are seeing notable audience growth in their news coverage and are pouring unprecedented resources into their coverage of U.S. politics and the 2020 elections.

Univision cited Nielsen data showing Noticiero Univision averaging 1.6 million total viewers so far in the 2019-20 season. The newscast has seen a notable uptick of 8% among adults 18-49 and a 11% jump in the 25-54 demo, compared to the same period at the start of last season, Univision reported.

Similarly, Sunday-morning public affairs program Al Punto is up 22% among all viewers, 34% in the the 18-49 demo and 15% among adults 25-54 in the first two weeks of the 2019-20 season.

Such ratings increases are unusual in an off election year like 2019, but they reflect the current, highly politicized election cycle. The two-night Democratic presidential debates in Miami in late June on Telemundo, NBC News and MSNBC drew a total of 15.3 million viewers for night one — more than any primary debate in the 2008 or 2012 election cycles — and another 9 million viewers on the second night.

Building for 2020

Next year, news tech is likely to play an outsized role as Hispanic broadcast networks use the large investments they’ve made to expand their coverage.

Lourdes Torres, senior vice president of political coverage and special projects at Univision, said the network will upgrade its Election Night set and use augmented reality technologies to better present the results and data.

“Our set designed for Election Night 2020 will put a premium on simplifying results,” Torres said. “We will make extensive use of large video monitors, touch screens and augmented reality.”

The impact of big tech investments on election coverage can also be seen at the Telemundo Center. Since it went live in the second quarter of 2019, the Miami facility has already played a major role in improving Telemundo’s election coverage, most notably providing a new set for the June 2019 Democratic debates.

The new facility allowed Telemundo to launch a noon newscast and made it much easier and cheaper to produce new TV and digital programming, Fernández and others said.

With more than 500,000 square feet of space, the Telemundo Center features 13 studios and five production control rooms to handle more than 4,000 hours of original production per year for sports, news, entertainment, scripted drama and digital.

The center is also built around groundbreaking new technologies that will allow the Telemundo news division to be much more flexible, efficient and productive in the creation of new content for both broadcast and digital.

An important feature is that the center is an all-internet protocol facility. IP systems have long been used to transport video and data over the public internet, but all-IP infrastructures are relatively new in the television industry. The new CNN headquarters at New York’s Hudson Yards and the Telemundo Center are the two notable pioneering examples of networks going all-IP within the last two years.

“News and elections are always some of the most challenging things [our tech teams] have to support because the very nature of what they have to do is very dynamic,” Jeff Mayzurk, senior vice president of operations and technology for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, said of the decision to go all-IP. “It changes all the time with breaking news.”

With the new IP platform, though, the studios and infrastructure can quickly be reconfigured to handle new programs, digital products or very complex events like the June Democratic presidential debate, which required eight translators to handle the live translation from English to Spanish.

“It was a very complex event, but we were able to expand support for it with relative ease,” Mayzurk said.

The new infrastructure also lets TV and digital news teams work side by side in the same newsroom, using the same technologies. This melding of TV and digital to create more news content will be particularly important for the 2020 elections, Telemundo executives said, because it will allow them to react more quickly to an already sped-up news cycle.

No More Silos

“How you integrate [the TV and digital newsrooms] is the million dollar question for all media, not just here in the U.S.,” given the need to quickly deliver content to more devices, Telemundo’s Fernández said.

The fact that Latinos are much younger than the general population means “the people we are serving have grown up on these digital platforms,” Rosado said. “We have to create platforms for where our audience is.”

Univision executives agreed. Chirinos said the network has “a dedicated digital news team for the political coverage feeding our website 24/7 [that follows] the hectic political dynamic that characterizes the Trump administration” and “our digital platform has been conceived on a mobile-first concept.”

“Our multiplatform offerings give us the flexibility to cover candidates from broadcast to digital one minute to the next,” added Univision’s Torres.

Telemundo’s Rosado noted the network’s new production facility is helping to launch a number of digital offerings.

“We have received a grant from YouTube to create a newscast for YouTube,” she said. Also, starting in October, subscription video-on-demand service Quibi said it would be doing a newscast with Telemundo, joining the BBC and NBC News in producing daily newscasts for the platform in the run-up to its 2020 launch, Rosado said.

“The economics of creating video at scale has always been the impossible dream in digital,” Rosado said. “The economics are just not there for anyone trying to produce high-quality video and make money. But this facility changes that. We can produce video at scale and shoot pretty much anywhere in the building.”

That will allow them to better cover issues important for Hispanics.

Next-Gen News Facility Is Here

TO SEE HOW new technology will affect TV coverage of the 2020 elections, look at the new Telemundo Center in Miami.

The facility’s design goal was to bring all the company’s original production units under one roof “to get the collaborative benefit of having the various production teams side by side,” NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises senior vice president of operations and technology Jeff Mayzurk said.

Over a three-year planning and construction process, Mayzurk’s teams quickly realized that traditional broadcast and production technologies wouldn’t help Telemundo achieve its goals.

“The scale of this facility would have been impossible in an SDI world,” said Mayzurk, referring to the Serial Digital Interface (SDI) standard that has long been used to move video within broadcast facilities.

To avoid that problem, Mayzurk and his team decided to go all-internet protocol, which allowed them to connect all the devices, sets, cameras and other technologies to one network. This IP network currently has nearly 10,000 Ethernet ports and can handle 150,000 multicast flows, providing enormous flexibility to add new equipment or reconfigure existing studios, cameras or other devices.

The facility also relies on cloud-based production technologies, which can be easily expanded or reconfigured, and cutting-edge automation to more easily revamp sets and production studios to add new programs.

The result is a game-changer for creating news content. “We can maintain a very high level of quality but at a lower cost point,” Mayzurk said. “A lot of news organizations are struggling with the fact that they have to produce more content and increase coverage but budgets aren’t growing. This allows us to do much more with less.”

Beyond the Border

Efforts to expand coverage of issues that matter to Hispanics in the runup to the 2020 elections are particularly important because of the way the group is often either portrayed or — just as problematically — ignored.

“What we are seeing in research is that if you are a Latino and you are looking at the way you are being represented in the mainstream media, what you are usually seeing is the poor person dying at the border,” Telemundo's Rosado said. “We are not really being portrayed in a way that is truly representative of what Latinos in this country do, how they come in different hues and different background and how they have been woven into the fabric of this country for generations.”

Univision’s Torres agreed. “It is a dynamic and growing community with a variety of ethnic, cultural and general backgrounds that are not monolithic,” she said, making it important to dive in “beyond the headlines.”

Torres and others also stressed that Hispanic broadcast networks can bring a deeper and more nuanced perspective to issues like immigration.

“We have people who have been covering immigration for a very long time,” Rosado noted. “But sometimes in the mainstream media, it is an issue that some people have woken up to when the president started tweeting about it. So there is a lack of understanding.”

“Immigration is so important for us that we do have it as a section, apart from politics,” said Chirinos at Univision. “The subject blends in the political debate because it has become a major issue for the Trump administration and is permeating the whole campaign.”

That means, he continued, “we cover the politics of immigration as well as the policy of it. … We keep tabs on the changing rules … We have a section dedicated to answer questions about immigration issues, which is one of the most read, and also a weekly podcast with our in-house experts talking about the issue.”

A deeper dive into the issues also reveals the complexity of Hispanic views on subjects like immigration. “Through our Univision News polling we have found and continue to find that Latinos are not monolithic on [immigration] and we work diligently to reflect that in our news coverage,” Torres at Univision said.

“We literally report things down the middle because when you look at the data the attitudes of Hispanics towards immigration are mixed,” Telemundo’s Rosado added. “You see second, third and even fourth generation Hispanics who have lived in this country for a long time saying, ‘I don’t want any more immigration.’ ”