Univision Dismisses the Idea the Leading Spanish-Language Network Has ‘Lost Its Luster’

Announces a new approach to prime time at upfront event

Shakira was the closing act at UCI's 2017 upfront presentation. Univision
Headshot of Chris Ariens

Univision opened its 2017 upfront event Tuesday with a get-out-of-your-seat number by singer Becky G. It ended with Colombian superstar Shakira singing her hit “Hips Don’t Lie.”

In between, the network did its best to assure ad buyers and media planners that it remains the best place for their Spanish-language ad dollars.

“We’ve heard a lot lately about some kind of shift happening,” said evp of ad sales Steve Mandala, speaking directly about competitor Telemundo, whose upfront theme this year is “shift happens.”

“I ever so politely tell you that that is a crock of shift,” Mandala said.

Mandala admitted the company has “some make-up work to do” but that it hasn’t “lost any of its luster.” Mandala said Univision still has more than a 10 percent lead on Telemundo and has commanded 66 percent of the U.S. Hispanic audience over the past five years.

Still, Univision is undergoing a shift of its own. For years, the network’s prime time was built around telenovelas mainly produced outside of the U.S. But as demographics changed, and U.S. Hispanics sought more relatable stories, Univision pivoted.

“Our audience is unafraid to tell us what they demand from us and how we should meet their needs,” said CMO Jessica Rodriguez. To that end, the network has green-lit several new series from multiple production partners that look nothing like the telenovelas of old.

The stories, Rodriguez said, “are grounded in the real world” and “go beyond stories of simple heroes and villains.” One new show, El Último Dragón (The Last Dragon) was filmed in five countries and shot in 4K Ultra HD. “These changes will reinvigorate our dramas,” Rodriguez promised.

"75 percent of our audiences actually watch your commercials."
Steve Mandala, Univision evp of ad sales

Univision will also be serving up soccer—a lot of soccer—from Mexico’s Liga MX to MLS in the U.S. The network is also creating a tournament pitting the best U.S. teams against the best teams from Mexico. And despite not having the rights to broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup from Russia (Telemundo does), Univision promises to cover every match.

Ad buyers were also left with results of several brand activations Univision’s ad sales team cooked up, including a multiplatform campaign with Honda. Following the campaign, Hispanic sales of the Honda Ridgeline increased 46 percent. Mondelez partnered with Univision on belVita breakfast biscuits, after which sales grew 38 percent. And Secret deodorant saw a 21 percent jump in sales over three years after its Univision buy.

“Seventy-five percent of our audiences actually watch your commercials,” said Mandala, boasting the network’s unduplicated reach to its unique and growing audience. “Let’s forget about language or culture, TV or digital,” said Mandala. “Let’s focus on the idea that not all impressions are created equal.”

@ChrisAriens chris.ariens@adweek.com Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.