This Media Network Is Taking Its Storytelling Directly to Advertisers

With GlassWorks, Azteca sees future of branded content

As a young man, digital media executive JuanMa Rowland suffered a debilitating head injury. Though he didn't know it at the time, that traumatic event opened up a world of opportunity. It allowed him to recognize patterns and, he says, tell stories with more precision. Now fully recovered, Rowland, as Azteca's StoryMaker—that's his job title—is turning adversity into advertising.

Through the Azteca GlassWorks content studio, Rowland and his team of 10 creators and futurists will "tell very local, very direct stories that brands want to talk about. … It's a completely different approach of how the upfronts work," Rowland said.

While Azteca trails competitors Univision and Telemundo in ratings and reach, the network is no less ambitious about onboarding clients in new and innovative ways.

"We are moving in the same direction that advertisers need to go," said Craig Geller evp of sales and digital for Azteca. "We are very data-centric, and we need to be more in line with the advertisers and doing what they're doing: chasing the consumer." 

Geller and Rowland have taken the GlassWorks pitch to clients in Los Angeles and Chicago and will reveal it to buyers tonight in New York, where a new slate of programs will also be revealed. Dallas is next. The response, Geller said, has been "incredible."

Geller is targeting the automotive, quick-service restaurant and wireless sectors. "A category that we're seeing a lot of interest is the beverage category, both nonalcoholic and alcoholic," said Geller who joined Azteca in 2015 and boasts 25 years in the business, including 16 at NBC and Telemundo.

In its target demographic, 18- to 34-year-olds, Azteca has grown 24 percent so far this season compared with 2015. Its reality programs, including La Isla, a Spanish-language Survivor, are the fastest-growing Spanish broadcast programs at 8 p.m. in the demo.

"The thing that makes us unique is our ability to tell good stories at the right time to the right audience," Geller said.

Azteca is available in nine of the top 10 U.S. markets as well as on cable and satellite. Its parent company, Mexico-based Azteca International, is the second largest producer of Spanish-language content in the world. And while most of Azteca's programming is produced in Mexico, GlassWorks will allow for native brand integration across its U.S. slate.

"If the story comes out of a story line on the linear screen, we will reflect that on the iPad screen or the mobile screen," said Geller, adding, "What we don't want to have is forced content."

While the network has yet to sign on a client or tell its first story, Rowland is optimistic about GlassWorks.

"The best way to predict the future is actually create it," he said.