The daytime soap opera, a venerable institution from the earliest days of broadcasting, has met a new match — the telenovela. Although soap opera viewership has declined from its 1980s glory days, America hasn't lost its taste for illicit romance, evil twins, and demonic possession, interspersed with ads for the kind of home-friendly products that gave the genre its name. It's just that we don't want to watch them in English anymore.
A Super Series has what L.A. calls a four-quadrant audience: younger and older, male and female.
The audience for telenovelas — Spanish-language soap operas that tell a limited story, instead of sprawling indefinitely, like their American counterparts — has never been bigger, and it's growing. According to Nielsen data, the U.S. audience for telenovelas, like Telemundo's Super Series™, is approaching 6 million viewers per week.
Some of this has to do with the slightly different form. English-language soaps follow the same characters and storylines for decades, making it a difficult to jump into a series after a 15-year absence and understand what's going on. Telenovelas are structured more like an American primetime drama, following a larger story for a few seasons and eventually reaching a satisfying conclusion. That kind of linear storytelling is catnip to networks that need to figure out how to market a show, and it's also a large part of why so many telenovela concepts have been adapted for the English-language market. It's a style that's easy for viewers to pick up on, follow, and get drawn into.
But there's also a business reasons that telenovelas are a winning formula. It's about the demographics. Not all TV viewers are created equal: Advertising dollars depend less on the total number of eyeballs who watch a show, but instead on how many of those eyeballs can still see well enough to drive at night. A show's success among viewers aged 18 to 49 — the rating in the demo, as they say — is the only one that matters to a network executive. A top daytime performer these days might attract nearly 5 million total viewers on a good week, but only around 750,000 in the demo — and virtually all of them women, which means no big-ticket ad dollars from car companies and movie studios, who prefer to market wider audiences.
By contrast, telenovela viewership is more of a family affair, cutting a wide swath directly through the target demo. Of those 5.7 million average weekly telenovela viewers, about 3.1 million are between 18 and 49, and the sexes tend to be more evenly distributed. It's what's called a four-quadrant audience: younger and older, male and female. Which means that as the Latino population continues to grow, telenovelas will only become more popular. Take, for example, Telemundo's hit Super Series™, El Señor de los Cielos, now in its fourth season. (Its star Fernanda Castillo is pictured above.) It's hitting that sweet spot in the 18-49 demographic and growing: The season four premiere attracted nearly 2.8 million viewers, 1.6 million of them in the demo.
So you can tell your grandma not to worry — her favorite programs aren't going anywhere. She just might have to learn Spanish to watch them.
Tune in to El Señor de los Cielos and other groundbreaking Super Series™ on Telemundo.