WASHINGTON -- Just a month after Forbes Magazine recognized the Hispanic television market as "the next media jackpot," some are complaining that Hispanic media aren't getting a fair share of attention from the political realm.
Randy Falco, president and chief executive of the Spanish-language network Univision, sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates to complain about the lack of a debate tailored for Latino audiences. He asked for an additional debate to speak specifically to Hispanic voters and pitched Univision national news anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas as moderators. The debate commission responded that it strongly believes its chosen moderators "see their assignment as representing all Americans in their choice of topics and questions."
The call for more political presence in Spanish-language television is not made in a vacuum. At stake is a rapidly expanding Hispanic TV market that Forbes estimated as worth $1 trillion.
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, announced this week that his group would track spending by political candidates and organizations on Spanish-language television, radio, and in print and online in 10 states through the November elections. A chamber analysis found that in 2010, spending on Spanish-language TV averaged about 3.9 percent, down slightly from just over 4 percent in 2008.
The numbers stand in contrast to reports showing Univision outperforming most English-language networks in certain age groups and specific time slots.
"We think the American public recognizes networks like Univision are very effective, but for some reason politicians never got the memo," Palomarez said. The Hispanic Chamber represents 3.1 million businesses that generate more than $465 billion a year in sales, he said.
The presidential campaigns have spent $350 million in nine highly competitive states for all types of commercials thus far, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. Those states are Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. With the presidential race expected to be close, Latino turnout could help decide the outcome in those states.
In June, Obama was outspending Romney in advertising directed at Spanish-speaking Hispanics. His campaign had spent $1.7 million since mid-April on ads in Spanish in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, according to SMG-Delta, a media firm that tracks campaign advertising.
The Obama campaign declined to speak on the record about its Spanish-language media spending, but sent Web links to a number of Spanish- and English-language sites geared toward Hispanics. "For over a year, we have used all the tools at our disposal from innovative advertising to grassroots organizing in the Latino community to promote the president's record," spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain said in an email.
Romney's campaign had spent $33,000 on Spanish-language ads in television markets in North Carolina and Ohio by early June. Ana Carbonell, adviser to Romney's organization on Hispanics, said the campaign did two Spanish-language ads during in the primaries and has done a total of eight in the general election campaign in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio.
"We are not only doing Spanish language, we are doing it very aggressively," Carbonell said. She said she did not immediately have figures on how much the campaign has spent thus far.
One in 5 registered Hispanic voters said Spanish is their primary language, according to a December 2011 Pew Hispanic Center survey. Another 45 percent say they are bilingual and a little more than a third said they are English dominant.
The share of the 50 million U.S. Hispanics whom networks are scrambling to capture is far larger than the Latino electorate that turns out to vote, but the pool is expanding.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates some 12 million Latinos will vote in this election. There were about 21.3 million voting eligible Hispanics – citizens 18 or older – in 2010 and about a third, 31.2 percent went to the polls for the midterm elections, according to Pew Hispanic Center.
In 2008, when Obama's candidacy drew record turnout, half of registered Latino voters went to the polls, the center's survey found.
With upcoming elections expected to be tight in some states, and the Latino population expanding in many battleground states, "wouldn't it be a smart investment to reach a voter that nobody is talking to?" Palomarez asked.