Spanish-language channel Univision celebrates its 50th anniversary on September 29. This is no small achievement: the New York/Miami based network is now in the same league for viewership as the five major English channels. Interviewing with Anchorman Jorge Ramos has become a mandatory stop for presidential candidates. Univision’s Miami studio is so busy that Florida now rivals Mexico City’s “Mexiwood” as the epicenter of Hispanic TV and film production.

Univision has been gradually gaining market-share since it was purchased by Saban Capital Group in 2007 for 13.7 billion dollars. Since 2000, Univision shows have been steadily reaching number one ratings for all age groups, time slots and markets. Univision recently announced it would be introducing English subtitles to some of its shows, a sign the network is increasingly penetrating the American market.

The first attempts to produce Spanish-language TV shows in the U.S. date back to the 1950s. In 1962 a group of investors came up with the idea of a Spanish International Network – Univision’s original name before it was changed in 1986. Univision boasts local stations in over 50 markets, each with their own programming, in addition to network shows.

The success of Univision, like that of the press group ImpreMedia, is a direct product of the growing Hispanic community in the U.S. But Univision’s programming is as much about bringing the Spanish-speaking world to the U.S. as it is about the United States itself. Popular telenovelas (soap operas), are essentially international and gain international success. Network news programs have correspondents in U.S. cities and all over Latin America. And some of Univision’s most popular programs come from abroad, like Chile’s Sábado Gigante (Giant Saturday), an over-the-top variety show, now produced from Miami, hosted by the relentless Don Francisco that has been running for over 50 years – the world’s longest running TV show.

Competition for the U.S. market share between TV giants Univision, Televisa, Telemundo and Azteca is intense. Televisa and Univision fought for control of electronic rights over telenovelas in the U.S. for four years – Televisa won, and the companies now form an alliance against Telemundo.

In fact, the story of this epic rivalry between TV giants would be a great background for a telenovela itself!

The Story of Spanish

More stories on Spanish in the United States can be found in our new book, The Story of Spanish, to be released April 2013 (St. Martin’s Press).