A Content Analysis of Social Groups in Prime-Time Spanish-Language Television

Article excerpt

Historically, content analytic research has pointed to disparities in the representation of Latinos in U.S. media offerings in terms of both the sheer number of Latino characters (Greenberg, Mastro, & Brand, 2002) as well as the often-stereotypical nature of these depictions (Ramirez Berg, 2002). Although a small but growing body of empirical studies documents the nature of Latino portrayals on U.S. television, little empirical research has examined the imagery presented in Spanish-language television. Research investigating the features of Spanish-language portrayals becomes particularly meaningful when the rapidly increasing viewership and popularity of Spanish-language television networks in the United States is recognized (Barnes & Jordan, 2005). Moreover, given that the programs aired on these networks are nearly exclusively produced outside the United States (Consoli, 2005; Univision, 2005) they are likely to differ from those on English-language networks, owing in part to differing cultural norms and ideals, including those associated with traditional gender and sex roles (Glascock & Ruggiero, 2004). When considered from the perspective of social identity theory, the characteristics of these portrayals become of consequence as these images would be implicated in processes of identity formation and social comparison (Harwood & Roy, 2005) among U.S. Latino viewers. Therefore, the present study applies a social identity theory framework in content analyzing a 1-week, random sample of Spanish-language television.

Spanish-Language Networks in the United States

The Spanish-language television industry has been steadily growing in the United States since the establishment of Univision (Stillig, 1995), which currently ranks as the most-watched Spanish-language network (Grillo & Bednarski, 2004). Indeed, since the inclusion of Spanish-language programs in the Nielsen rankings, Univision has emerged as the fifth most-watched television network in the United States ("Television en Fuego," 2006), due to some extent to reaching 98% of all U.S. Latino television households (Univision, 2005). Telemundo is second in Spanish-language television viewership, penetrating 92% of U.S. Latino television homes (Telemundo, 2005), followed by the Univision Communications-established Telefutura, which reaches 85% of Latino television households (Downey, 2005b). The final player in the Spanish-language television race is Azteca America (Downey, 2005a), currently reaching 77% of the total U.S. Latino population (Azteca America, 2005).

Telenovelas, (1) similar to soap operas, dominate the Spanish-language television networks and provide the principal basis for Univision's high ratings (Azteca America, 2005; Consoli, 2005; Downey, 2005b). Given their tremendous popularity, these programs have attracted the attention of the U.S., English-language networks. Notably, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC all have English-language telenovela projects in development, with plans to begin airing as early as 2006 ("Television en Fuego," 2006; "Telenovelas," 2006).

It is notable to point out that in addition to Univision's status as the most watched Spanish-language television channel, it also presents a threat to the major U.S. broadcast networks; frequently outranking at least one of the English-language networks among young adults (Barnes & Jordan, 2005). Univision further asserts that more U.S. Latinos watch its programming in every daypart than any of the four mainstream broadcast networks (Univision, 2005). When assessing media use among bilingual Latinos in the United States, this is meaningful as members of this segment of the population have the option of selecting from both English- and Spanish-language programming--vastly broadening the television offerings. In fact, research has revealed that whereas older viewers are likely to attend more to Spanish- than English-language programming (Barnes & Jordan, 2005) due to the fulfillment obtained from watching shows that represent their cultural background (Faber, O'Guinn, & Meyer, 1986), younger viewers increasingly choose Spanish-language programming based simply on the appeal of the content (Barnes & Jordan, 2005). …