Univision and Telemundo Are Battling It Out on a Digital Front

Can Comcast’s ownership help tip the scales?

 William Valdés, the on-air social media host for Univision’s Despierta América, makes sure to include segments aimed at older viewers, including a recent segment on how to use Twitter. Afterwards, his mom ended up joining the social network and following him. “I was surprised when she went from a BlackBerry to an iPhone—now she’s on Facebook and Twitter!” he says.

The architect of Telemundo's digital strategy, evp,
digital media and emerging business Peter Blacker

The Telemundo Way
“It’s here somewhere. I saw it when I was driving in,” says Peter Blacker, Telemundo’s evp, digital media and emerging business, as he quickens his pace down the cobblestone streets of New York’s Tribeca.

Blacker turns the corner and the Tribeca Cinemas marquee comes into view. He runs ahead, snapping pictures of the sign boasting the premiere of ISA, the first film out of multiplatform studio Fluency. The supernatural thriller (mostly in English) about a young woman who can manipulate her dreams into reality ran on the Syfy network in June, supplemented with behind-the-scenes digital content. It then headed to Chiller, VOD and digital platforms, and will eventually make its way to Telemundo and Mun2.

If it seems strange that a movie created by Telemundo would air first on a different network and have so much online-only content, that is exactly how Blacker planned it (Fluency, Syfy, Chiller and Telemundo are all under the NBCUniversal umbrella). Where Univision keeps building new destinations, Telemundo has concentrated on making use of its sibling relationships to expose Telemundo content to new audiences and then bring them back to the mothership. Whether it’s Fluency’s non-traditional storytelling or partnerships with Fandango Cine, or Enfoque host José Díaz-Balart becoming anchor of MSNBC’s 10 a.m. newscast, Telemundo content is being liberally sprinkled across the parent company.

“What we’ve tried to do in the past year has been to increase our commitment and investment in Hispanic assets and to identify assets that may have appeal and be reflective of the Hispanic audiences but may also appeal to non-Hispanic audiences,” explains Joe Uva, NBCUniversal’s chairman of Hispanic enterprises and content (who until 2011 held a similar title at Univision).

Advertisers are getting into the game. Samsung sponsored ISA and also happens to be the phone its mobile-addicted characters use. In a similar move to Univision, Telemundo also is turning to YouTube for talent appealing to millennials.

ISA actors include Southern California online star Eric G. Ochoa, who, as SupereeeGO, riffs on Mexican culture. (His video Cholas Bailando Cumbia has been viewed 13.3 million times since 2010.) Fluency’s next movie, a romantic comedy with the working title Ana Maria, will feature Latina social media star and singer Carla Morrison.

“You can’t be innovative if you’re looking at your own talent and your own people. Of all the divisions in our company, we should be at the forefront and the edge of finding the Eric Ochoas because those are going to be the future talent pool that are going to drive people across all screens,” Blacker says.

Blacker, who earlier led AOL’s multicultural initiatives, believes historically trailing Univision has forced Telemundo to become creative and given it an edge, particularly in the realm of telenovelas. There’s plenty of ground for experimentation, including the social media-centric telenovela Secreteando. Consuming the entire storyline requires watching twice-weekly digital installments and reading through character postings on Facebook and Twitter. A second season, sponsored by Procter & Gamble, is currently airing. The audience has grown 235 percent since the first series, to 12 million viewers. “If you want an engaged audience, you don’t want to just push something out at them,” says Christine Escribano, svp, integrated marketing solutions. “You’ve got to pull from your audience and invite them to be part of it.”

Telenovelas and movies are not the only content with which Telemundo is experimenting. The awards show Premios Tu Mundo started out as an online voting push, notes Borja Perez, Telemundo’s svp, digital and social media. The net also adapted NBC’s The Voice and Bravo’s Top Chef into La Voz Kids and Top Chef Estrellas, respectively; each relies heavily on online participation and bonus Web content.

“My daughter tells me, ‘Oh my God, it’s like the real one!’” Perez says of La Voz Kids. “When they say it’s like the real one, you know you got it. If you give them something watered down, it’s not going to stick.”

Who’s got the edge?

With such different approaches, is it possible to say that either Univision or Telemundo has the upper hand?

Michael Fernandez, president of experiential marketing agency Factory 360, gives a slight advantage to Telemundo, as it can work with other NBCU properties with a built-in millennial base. “Univision is force-fitting themselves into the equation,” he says. “They are trying to create something when they don’t have equity with millennials.”

MEC Bravo managing partner Vilma Vale-Brennan says that while Telemundo may have a more fully formed digital video strategy, she believes Univision is the one to watch due to the strength and reach of the net across the Hispanic audience, as well as its partnerships. She also sees Univision’s digital material as more novel—from the way it looks at news with Fusion to the pop culture sound bites it gets from Flama. “They are way ahead of Telemundo in their position, and their offerings just make a richer platform,” says Vale-Brennan.

Perhaps Telemundo does hold one trump card. NBCU’s parent is cable giant Comcast, which serves high-capacity Internet access to some 24 million homes. Xavier Mantilla, svp, multicultural media at Universal McCann Worldwide, says that could tip matters if Comcast opts to manipulate Internet speeds in Telemundo’s favor, depending on where net neutrality rules end up. “Comcast could possibly give Univision a hard task to match if they pull it all together,” says Mantilla.

For the foreseeable future, Telemundo and Univision will continue to duke it out.

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