Hispanic Networks: Ready for Prime Time

Like a beautiful, bodice-ripped starlet chewing up the scenery on a telenovela, television’s top two major Hispanic networks plan to draw extra attention in this year’s upfront marketplace. That’s a welcome plot twist for media buyers involved in the upfront melodrama.

Univision started its push at an extravaganza at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center earlier in May featuring Latino superstar Ricky Martin and a glimpse of new offerings on the horizon. Telemundo, meanwhile, began wooing buyers through March meetings in Miami using a blend of glamorous talent and what its executives believe is a strong story line about the growing Hispanic demographic.

Univision officials say the Lincoln Center presentation attracted more general-market buyers and more first-time attendees than ever before. Statistics help explain why. Univision cites the U.S. Census in claiming that the country’s Hispanic population is now larger than the total populations of Canada, Spain, Argentina or Colombia — and that Hispanics now make up 16 percent of the U.S. population. One in five young adults is Hispanic, according to Univision’s analysis of Nielsen universe estimates.

Lisa Torres, evp and group account director at MPG’s diversity unit, says she believes the presentations will help generate double-digit growth in upfront revenue for the two players. “They’ll get back the money that they lost in last year’s upfront when everyone was holding back money,” she says.

That’s exactly what David Lawenda, president of ad sales and marketing at Univision Communications, is banking on. Mike Rodriguez, svp of network sales and marketing at Telemundo, likewise predicts the 2010 upfront could be Telemundo’s “best ever.”

Lawenda points to key reasons for his exuberance. Last year, he explains, while the general-market upfront was down 15 percent to 22 percent in total dollars, Univision saw its revenue rise 3 percent to an estimated $1.24 billion. (One buyer, who declined to speak for attribution, put the combined 2009 upfront haul for Telemundo and Univision at about flat with ’08, adding in revenue for their smaller channels.) More recently, the Hispanic scatter market has been through the roof. “Fourth-quarter scatter had 50 percent year-over-year growth, and we built on that in the first quarter,” Lawenda says. “Second-quarter scatter was up 100 percent over last year.”

Lawenda notes that Univision “activated” 34 new brands in 2010 in every major category. In the just-concluded TV season, he boasts that Univision was the No. 1 net in the country on at least 65 nights — ahead of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — in delivery of key adults 18-34.

Execs at both networks expect more positive data in the first quarter of 2011 when the U.S. Census puts out a fresh set of statistics that will reveal the extent of growth in the Latino market.

One big crowd pleaser during Univision’s presentation was the announcement it is now the exclusive U.S. home of the Mexican National Soccer Team, with rights to all the team’s qualifying matches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as well as friendly matches — which amounts to some 10 games per year.

“The announcement was a big win for them and is in line with their soccer strategy,” says Alex Lopez Negrete, CEO, chief creative officer of Hispanic agency Lopez Negrete Communications. “I’m sure it surprised a lot of folks on the Telemundo side.”

Another striking aspect of Univision’s presentation was the sheer volume of new programming — more than 20 shows — some of which will be produced by its new U.S. studio. Among the made-in-America fare is a novela called Eva Luna and several reality and game shows. In those shows, the network plans to push more opportunities for brand integrations than it ever has. Univision’s new strategy “is exciting from an advertiser perspective. It’s what a lot of advertisers have been asking for,” says Marcy Greenberger, vp, media director at Hispanic media-buying agency Tapestry. Univision claims it offered 4,000 hours of home-grown programming during the current season across all three of its networks, but for those looking for opportunities on the mainstay Univision network, integrations have been available only “on a handful of shows,” adds MPG’s Torres.

During the presentation, Univision execs made clear that they consider the general-market broadcast networks their main competition. Univision Networks’ president Cesar Conde predicts that within five to 10 years, Univision will beat the Big Four networks in key demographics for the duration of the season.

Long trailing its bigger rival, Telemundo is more competitive with Univision’s little sister, Telefutura. In delivery of the adults 18-34 demo during the February sweeps, Telefutura and Telemundo were neck and neck — both garnered a 0.5 rating (although Telefutura’s household delivery was slightly higher). And in the first half of the May sweeps (April 29 through May 16), Telemundo drew a 0.7 versus Telefutura’s 0.5 in the demo.

While Univision may be the dominant player, its new programming strategy directly borrows from the playbook Telemundo has followed for the last five years. The network watched as No. 2 Telemundo wowed advertisers with original fare and is now striving to garner some of that ad revenue.

Getting into original programming involves “white knuckles, big investments and blind faith,” says Telemundo’s president Don Browne. The network’s COO, Jackie Hernandez, earns kudos from agencies for leading the charge on branded integrations. Given all the custom-made integrations the original fare affords, “our brands really enjoy working with Telemundo,” says Lopez Negrete.

Torres doesn’t believe Telefutura is diminishing Telemundo’s value. “Yes, Telefutura has had an upward trajectory,” she says. “But Telefutura didn’t erode Telemundo’s ratings. Every time Telemundo has launched something new, its ratings are higher than what was previously aired.”

Telemundo is still tweaking the novela concept. “Something that’s becoming stronger for us is the relevance of the stories,” says Adriana Ibanez, evp of programming at Telemundo. Her team is infusing scripted shows with story lines that speak to the issues that are at the heart of the U.S. Latino experience. That’s in evidence in Telemundo’s just-launched nightly novela rendering of Grey’s Anatomy, called A Corazón Abierto (An Open Heart). It’s being written by the creator of the Colombian hit Betty la Fea, which was transformed into ABC’s English-language Ugly Betty.

In addition to the announcement of several new shows, the NBC Universal-owned net also promoted the launch of “Eventos Telemundo” — grassroots consumer events that will feature Telemundo celebrities mingling with the public in various markets, many of which will offer opportunities for advertiser tie-ins.

But there was one thing both Telemundo and Univision’s presentations lacked. Jennifer Mennes, Post Foods’ director of media and public relations, says she would have liked more discussion about synergy across media channels during the presentations. “Internet usage is high, and Hispanics over-index on smartphone usage, indicating there are significant possibilities for cross-platform programming and promotions,” she says.

That said, Mennes lauded the research done by both networks to help clients better understand the Hispanic community. The information will go far in helping brands figure out, she believes, “how, not where, we communicate to the Hispanic community.”