But they’re still taking the measure of this new demographic. They’ve dispatched Alejandra Campoverdi, a former White House deputy communications director for Hispanic media under President Obama, to conduct focus groups with Hispanic millennials.
What she’s discovering is that Latinos are way more complicated than you might think. For one, there’s no single Latino profile. Mexicans, Dominicans, Cubans — they each have their nuances. She’s talked with Latinos who profess to not being particularly attuned to so-called Latino topics, stuff too obviously intended to be about them or to reach them. She’s found a community with hair-trigger sensitivities to any hint that someone might be pandering to them.
Yet she’s also found Latinos who are sick of television programs populated mostly by white people, and shows where the only Latinos are Guatemalan maids and Mexican housekeepers. And she’s found Latinos pining to see “different shades of brown.”
Watching footage of Campoverdi’s intimate chats, a couple of things become quite clear: Not only are Univision and ABC trying to figure out who these new Americans are, but these new Americans are trying to figure out who they are, too.
Reluctance on both sides
Fusion almost didn’t happen. In March 2011, Lee and Conde flew to New York to meet with Ben Sherwood, who’d recently become president of ABC News. The Univision guys weren’t expecting much when they sat down for a fancy catered lunch in an executive conference room on the 22nd floor of ABC’s building, Lee says.
Sherwood, who grew up in Southern California, broke the ice by apologizing for the formality and shattered it even further by telling his guests about a book proposal he’d sold in the 1990s about the “unwhitening of America.” He’d been inspired to write the book — which he never got around to finishing — by anti-immigrant measures in his home state.
The Univision delegation was thinking small-scale, suggesting that Ramos and his popular co-anchor, Maria Elena Salinas, appear on some ABC news talk shows, and that Ramos be allowed to ask a question if ABC hosted a presidential debate. Sherwood liked all that, but he wanted to talk about bigger things.
What started in that conference room ran headlong into major resistance at both networks. Univision is a cash machine that has grown to a dozen networks, including 24-hour sports and telenovela channels. But its strength has been distribution, particularly its ability to funnel Mexican soap operas to a U.S. audience, rather than creation of original programming. ABC news executives encountered a cautious corporate culture at its parent, Disney. Despite several highly successful arrangements, Disney was still leery of joint ventures. At several key points in the talks, insiders say, Univision’s new CEO — the former AOL board chairman and NBC executive, Randy Falco — had to intervene to block objections from top Univision brass who were dead set against the deal.