Univision is the largest television network providing Spanish-language programs in the United States. It features content such as drama series, telenovelas, feature films, news and sports shows, reality and variety series aimed toward Hispanic Americans. Univision has deep roots in the history of broadcast television. It is ultimately the story of the wealthy and intelligent Azcárraga family who created a media dynasty in Mexico and expanded it throughout generations of the family. Univision was developed through close family ties to additional successive television networks, which have alternately competed with or provided core content for the predecessors to Univision as it is known today. It’s an incredible epic- worthy of its own grand telenovena.
1. Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta bought KCOR-TV in San Antonio-the first TV station of what has become the nationwide network Univision.
The year was 1961 and Vidaurreta was a media mogul from Mexico. He knew that the Latino population in the United States had headed north to stay. He wanted to bring Spanish language programming to viewers all across America and he already had a vast library of shows available. His vision was to create a TV network devoted to Spanish speaking people, and he decided to name it Spanish International Network (SIN). Vidaurreta’s one small TV station in Texas had been joined by an entire network of stations which was renamed Univision along the way. By 1999, the network was based in Los Angeles and Nielsen ratings estimated that it reached 28.3 million viewers, 8.3 million households, and held 92% of prime-time Spanish-language TV viewers.
2. Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta was of Basque heritage.
His father was Mariano Azcárraga. His mother was Emilia Vidaurreta. Both were Basque immigrants. Emilio was named following the naming system in Spain. Emilio was his given name and he also carried two surnames. These two came from his father’s family and his mother’s family. Hispanic preference often dictates that the father’s surname is used along with the given name. In many articles of his time, writers referred to Emilio as Emilio Azcárraga due to common Hispanic American naming conventions.
3. At first, Azcárraga Vidaurreta filled SIN’s air time with shows from Mexican Grupo Televisa.
Mexican Grupo Televisa was a world production leader of programs in Spanish. Vidaurreta acquired additional stations in San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles and there weren’t many original TV shows aired from those stations for about thirty years. The Azcárraga media dynasty held Televisa at the center of their family business. Emilio’s brother Raúl had founded the Mexican radio station XEW in 1930 and the family was easily able to capitalize on its broadcast content.
4. Azcárraga Vidaurreta’s son, Emilio Azcárraga Milmo, inherited SIN in 1972, and then lost it.
The federal Communications Commission decided that SIN had violated rules which prohibited foreign control of U.S. broadcast stations. The legal battle was long and extensive. Beginning in 1986, a two-year process began, which ultimately resulted in the sale of the network. Televisa, owner of the Mexican telenovelas so popular on the network, was the official seller, and it was owned by the Azcárraga family. Today, Televisa is the largest multimedia company in the Spanish-speaking world and Hispanic America. It was led by the men of the Azcárraga family. Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta founded the company as Grupo Televisa in 1955. When he died in 1972, ownership passed to his son, Emilio Azcárraga Milmo. When he died in 1997, ownership passed to the grandson, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, who renounced leadership of the company in 2017. Emilio Azcárraga Jean remains on the board of directors as Chairman.
5. Hallmark Cards Inc. purchased SIN network in 1988 for $600 million.
Hallmark changed the network name to Univision, with a goal of reaching the Latino community. Hallmark increased its production in the United States, hoping to fill air time with soap operas from South America. Televisa had taken its telenovelas to new customers. Hallmark was never able to generate the ad revenue it had expected and sold Univision to A. Jerrol Perenchio for approximately $550 million.
6. Some TV insiders gave Univision the nickname “McUnivision”.
It happened when the company began to hire large numbers of non-Latino salespeople and marketers. It followed the obvious fact that new network viewers would continue to be drawn from immigrants who were yet to be assimilated and not bi-lingual. It also accepted the fact that many Latinos had lived in the United States for generations, were bi-lingual and would need to be wooed by the network. To balance the viewing needs of all potential viewers, Perenchio attempted to make the internal changes necessary for the company to reach both Latino cultures. Perenchio wasn’t a fluent Spanish speaker, but nevertheless the company was growing to reach the emerging largest single minority of Americans.
7. Univision began to offer its telenovelas with English-language subtitles in January 2012.
This was a huge twist for the company which had prohibited using English for its advertisements and programming in its early years. Then COO, Henry Cisneros, a former cabinet member in the Clinton administration was quoted by the LA Times as saying that, “We believe that [Univision] should defend the Spanish language [in the same way that] Tiffany defends its jewels.” The only English rarely seen was on product titles or film trailer dialogues. Under the direction of CEO Joaquin Blaya, the network had sought to create a broader appeal to all nationalities of Latinos and Hispanics. But with the popularity of the telenovela genre, it became obvious that these Spanish-language soap operas were reaching across cultures, and it became a company commitment to help audiences connect to Hispanic American culture. The announcement was made in Miami by Univision Networks President Cesar Conde. The English-language closed captioning was applied Monday through Friday nights for the 7 to 10 PM weeknight block which included “Una Familia Con Suerte”(A Fortunate Family), “La Que No Podia Amar” (The One That Couldn’t Love), and “El Talisman”(a powerful hacienda and good luck charm).
8. Univision has distribution agreements in 13 countries with numerous content partners in Latin America:
• Argentina; TV Pública Digital, El Trece
• Brazil; SBT
• Chile; UCV Television, Canal 13
• Colombia; Caracol Television, Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia, RCN Televisión
• Costa Rica; Canal 2, Teletica, Repretel
• Dominican Republic; Grupo Telemicro
• El Salvador; Salvadoran Telecommunications
• Honduras; TVC Channel 5
• Mexico; Televisa, Televisa Regional, Televisa Networks
• Panama; Telemetro and RPC
• Peru; America Television
• Puerto Rico; Univision Puerto Rico
• Venezuela; Venevision, Venevision Plus, VTV and TVes
Of course, there are many, many more throughout the United States, but this gives an idea of the extent of Univision’s holdings.
9. Univision’s 1995 introduction of Plaza Sésamo prompted debate over bi-lingual education.
Plaza Sesamo was supposed to be in the same neighborhood as Sesame Street-just around the corner, actually. When it first aired in April of 1995, it was initially test-marketed on Univision stations in Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and on PBS. Plaza Sésamo was a co-production of Televisa and Children’s Television Network. The producers were certain that the Spanish-language educational children’s program would bring criticism. Bilingual education was both supported and rejected by educators. Some believed that Sésamo would promote literacy in both Spanish and English. Others argued that learning in Spanish first actually delays English learning. Univision scheduled the shows back to back, the discovery was quickly made that children would begin their day watching Plaza Sésamo and continue watching Sesame Street next. By June of 1995 Nielsen Hispanic Stations Index calculated that 66,000 Latino households in Los Angeles County were watching the show daily. By January, the number of households watching daily had grown close to 100,000.
10. A. Jerrol Perenchio made significant investments to support Univision’s balance between immigrant and assimilated Latinos and Latino and Anglo viewers.
Perenchio had been Norman Lear’s partner and a protégé of Lew Wasserman. Perenchio ensured that money was spent on updating station equipment, redesigning sets, and increasing travel budgets. He ensured that Univision jointed together with Telemundo to invest $37 million for setting up a Latino rating system with A.C. Nielen. He added Mario Rodriguez as programming chief, and it was Rodriguez and his team that studied Nielsen ratings for three years to track what both immigrant and assimilated Latinos wanted to watch. Rodriguez aptly described the divide between Latino and Anglo viewing as more a cultural issue rather than a language issue, while the company continued to increase both its programming and its advertising revenue.
11. Univision created a policy which maintained the use of a neutral Spanish accent.
The policy had been implemented early on and was enforced to ensure that any Spanish-language nationality wasn’t alienated. At the same time, producers were expected to avoid humor or slang that appealed only to Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or Mexicans.
12. Univision’s signature show Sábado Gigante aired for 53 years.
The show, Gigantic Saturday, was created by Don Francisco and first aired in Chile on Canal 13 in 1962. Don Francisco was the stage name of host Mario Kreutzberger, who was a TV star in Chile. His full name was Mario Luis Kretzberger Blumenfeld and he was born to Erick Kreutzberger and Anna Blumenfeld who were both German Jewish refugees who escaped World War II by fleeing to Chile. Mario was born in Talca, Chile in December 1940. In 1986, the show was moved to Miami where SIN took over production, while keeping the Chilean show’s formula intact. Kreutzberger spent six years developing the variety show into three hours of comedy, contests, interviews and the famous traveling camera section. Kreutzberger traveled to more than 185 countries around the world and aired segments filmed by the traveling camera. According to the Guinness World Records, Sábado Gigante is the world’s longest running television variety show.
13. Univision celebrated its 50 years of history in 2012 with a new logo.
Randy Falco, then President and CEO of Univision Communications, Inc., noted that the new logo was designed to reflect the bold, modern and multidimensional Hispanic community which Univision serves. He described Univision as having evolved from a single Spanish-language network to connect with multiple generations of Hispanic Americans. The new three-dimensional logo was thought to reflect the human heart. It replaced the original logo which had been in place for almost 50 years. The four separate quadrants of the first logo were unified in the new one to represent Univision’s embrace of the United States Latino community as one of merging and collaboration.
14. Univision dropped its involvement with the Miss Universe Organization due to Donald Trump’s remarks which insulted immigrants from Mexico.
The company’s entertainment division backed out of airing the July 12, 2015 Miss USA pageant just two weeks before its air date. A statement was issued by the company which described how Univision is aware of the strong religious and family values of Mexican immigrants and the strong work ethic the both immigrants and Mexican- Americans have and will continue to display while building the future of the United States. Mr. Trump followed with his own statement indicating that Univision had been pressured by the Mexican government to break their contract with Miss Universe Organization because Mr. Trump had publicly exposed what he viewed has “terrible trade deals” between Mexico and the United States.
15. Univision and Fundación Teletón created Fundación Teletón USA, a fundraising telethon.
The telethon has been hosted by Don Francisco since it began. It was modeled after the Muscular Distrophy Telethons hosted by Jerry Lewis. It is 28 hours of combined television and radio fundraising that takes place annually across Univision, Univision America, Univision.com, and UVideos platforms. The first event took place in December 2012 and raised $8,150,625 US dollars to benefit medical treatment and research for children with autism, cancer, and disabilities across the United States.
16. Univision broadcasts ¡Feliz! every New Year’s Eve.
The television special features special musical and celebrity guest appearances, and the traditional count down to the New Year. As the evening progresses, more cities from around the world join the broadcast and add to the festivities. Originally hosted by Don Francisco from 1986 to 2014, the specials are now presented by host and Executive Producer Raúl De Molina. Molina was born in Cuba but left when he was ten years old to live in Madrid, Spain. He immigrated to the United States when he was sixteen. Molina is an award-winning television host and entertaining reporter covering events such as the recent Royal Wedding and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, France, South Africa, and Germany.
17. Univision Miami broadcast the 48th Annual Three Kings Day Parade.
It took place on January 14, 2018. The Grand Marshal was Luis Fonsi, whose hit song “Despacito” had topped the music charts in the United States and internationally, across genres. The parade honored telenovela stars Sebastián Rulli and Maire Perroni as International Godparents. Mickey and Minnie Mouse joined the parade to share Disney magic with South Floridians. Local folkloric groups, marching bands, camels and floats were all parade highlights.
18. Vincent Sadusky was appointed Chief Executive Officer effective June 1, 2018.
Sadusky took over the role as Univision completed its 26th consecutive year as the Number One Spanish-language network for the 2017-2018 broadcast season. It’s leadership in primetime has been undisputed, with double-digit audience advantages over Telemundo and a string of Number One rankings during primetime across the board, and regardless of language. Sadusky has an extensive background in the media industry. He earned an MBA from New York Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Pennsylvania State University. He was Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer for Telemundo Communications early in his career. He was president and CEO of LIN Media, and from 2014 to 2017 he was the President and CEO of Media General.
19. Univision launched a new series about Early Childhood Development.
The miniseries “La Fuerza de Creer” began airing on January 7 Monday through Friday at 2:00 P.M. ET. The five original episodes deals with topics such as brain-building activities, boosting early literacy, and social-emotional development within the context of dramatic and entertaining stories. The series provides messages for all caregivers of children concerning ways to engage children for their best development.
20. Univision Chicago Presented Chicago’s very first Spanish-language morning news show on January 21, 2019.
The new show’s hosts will be Diana Pérez and Alex Hernández who are currently on-air reporters for the station. The two will serve as co-anchors for the show, which has been named “Primera Hora” or First Hour in English. The program will air Monday through Friday from 5:00 to 7:00 A.M. CDT. Mau Mauricio will provide daily integrations from Latino Mix 93.5 FM. The program will feature the first radio and television integration of its kind for the Midwest region. Included will be lifestyle and community content, traffic and weather updates and “hyperlocal news”. Hernández has been a reporter for almost 20 years. He holds a Business degree from the University of Texas, San Antonio. Pérez is from Celaya, Mexico, but came to Chicago when she was just six years old. Her B.A. in communications and sociology is from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She’s been part of the Univision Chicago Team since 2015 when she started out as a weather anchor.