Aiming for Hispanic Hearts and English Dollars

Univision's new sales chief prepares for multiplatform upfront—and a challenge to the bigger broadcast networks

Why This Matters

Univision At A Glance

FOUNDED: 1962, as Spanish International Network

KEY ASSETS: 12 broadcast and cable networks (including Univision, UniMás and Galavisión), digital platforms (including UVideos and Univision.com), 69 radio stations and 62 TV stations in U.S. and Puerto Rico

OWNERSHIP: Private equity consortium, led by executive chairman Haim Saban

2012 REVENUE: $2.442 billion

RELATED: Putting a Little English on It

Even as it battles to maintain the love of the Hispanic community the company dominates, Univision Communications is taking aim at a much bigger target: the English-language broadcast networks.

Former NBC executive Keith Turner, who joined Univision as president of advertising sales and marketing last summer, tells B&C he understands the passion that people have for the brand and the romantic telenovelas it airs in primetime. The newly intensified competition in the Spanish-language TV business, from Comcast’s Telemundo and Fox’s Mundo Fox, “validates what we’ve been talking about all these years,” Turner says.

But Univision execs look at the network’s February sweeps ratings—which eclipsed those of struggling NBC—as the start of a major shift, one they have not been shy about touting. And Turner sees the network, which turned 50 last year, evolving into a bigger fish in a deeper pool of advertising revenue that now goes to the English-language broadcasters.

“I think we’ve gotten the share of the Hispanic dollars that’s available. I think the block of dollars that we want to go after now is in the English-language segment,” Turner says. Beating NBC is “a big story,” he adds. “We’ve got to beat that drum.”

The volume on that drumbeat is rattling some buyers who specialize in Spanishlanguage media. “It was really kind of surprising the way that they positioned themselves, because they don’t necessarily always default to the fact that they’re a Spanish-language network,” says Stephanie Da Costa, media director at Wing, a $70 million agency owned by WPP with clients including Procter & Gamble, Red Lobster and Radio Shack. “That’s secondary almost to the fact that they’re able to compete with English-language networks as far as ratings.”

“They can’t say, ‘We’re just another network.’ They’re not,” Da Costa says. “They’re a network that has a very specific niche. You’re reaching the Hispanic market. And if a brand is not interested in reaching Hispanics, they’re never going to go for you, regardless of what your ratings are.”

Best of Both Worlds?

Da Costa thinks that rather than being concerned about maintaining its hold on a Spanish-language market that is growing as the U.S. population evolves, Univision sees itself with a comfortable lead that gives them the leverage to explore new horizons. While “that’s a fact, I think that a smart business person would look beyond that and that the trend is going in a direction that’s kind of opposite of that. They’re losing share,” she says.

But Univision CEO Randy Falco, another former NBC executive, insists the company is paying very close attention to the Hispanic market.

He says the unique place the Univision brand occupies in the Hispanic community, plus its growing array of broadcast, cable and digital assets, makes it possible to maintain its approximately 73% share of the Spanish-language market in the face of the intensified competition.

“If we take care of the community, empower the community, and show reverence, always reverence, to the brand, I think we’ll be able to maintain that position that we have with the Hispanic community,” Falco says. At the same time, the new platforms create additional shelf space that ensures that “we have a Univision-branded piece of content in front of our audience whenever they choose to consume that content.”

In addition, Falco says, “we think we’re going to be very competitive in the overall broadcast arena regardless of language.” He adds that over time, as the demographics of the country change and the current level of one in six Americans being Hispanic becomes one in three by 2040, “I think there’s a very good case that Univision will become one of the top three networks in the country.”

But even as ratings rise, will advertisers move money now going to the Big Four broadcast networks to Spanish-language TV? “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s happening,” Falco says. “So you have little tipping points. I think the last election was a tipping point. It certainly proved to candidates that they have to do business with Univision, which has become the gateway to the Hispanic audience. So if you want to get elected, you should be talking to that community through Univision.”

“I think the same can be said for advertisers,” Falco adds. “If they want to talk to the Hispanic community, the gateway to that community continues to be Univision. More and more advertisers will see that.”

Last October, Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political spending, estimated that the Obama and Romney campaigns combined spent eight times more money on Spanish-language ads than was spent in 2008. Half that total spending came in three Florida markets—Orlando, Miami and Tampa—all of which boast Univision stations.

Great Expectations

Univision is starting to prepare for the upfront. On March 1, Turner had his first meeting about planning Univision’s May 14 upfront presentation, where next season’s programming will be announced. “We are in the process of putting these pre-upfront meetings together where we go literally agency by agency to have conversations about what we’re doing, where we’re going, what they’re doing, how we can help them,” he says.

It’s too early to make predictions about the upfront, but Turner says first quarter has been strong, with Univision writing more scatter business than ever. Options to get out of first-quarter upfront buys were at an all-time low, he adds, “so all the indicators are there.”

Univision will air its last World Cup soccer tournament in 2014, after which Telemundo’s broadcast rights kick in. “We’re way ahead of this upfront in selling World Cup. We’ve already written 10 to 12 deals. We’re in very good shape,” Turner says. After the World Cup leaves, the company will still be on solid footing, Turner says, because “we seem to have every other soccer property.”

Univision’s upfront will also be about more than the broadcast network. There’s second broadcast network UniMás, local TV and radio stations, a growing stable of new and old cable channels, plus digital and mobile platforms (see “At a Glance,”). Turner plans to bring all of Univision’s assets to market at one time to make multiplatform deals. “There are a lot of assets here,” he says. “I know that advertisers don’t want to just buy 30-second commercials anymore; they want a connection and connectivity. Those are the things that we’re building here.”

Media buyers say they have heard that story from Univision before and they hope the new team can deliver. “I think we are finally seeing that come to fruition a little bit more than we have in other years,” says Lisa Torres, president of Zenith’s ZO Multicultural division. “We’re seeing all their properties move together, not only from a national perspective, but activating local and digital and social.”

Making Digital Plays Pay

After launching the UVideos platforms and other digital businesses, Falco says Univision is thinking about getting involved in the digital upfronts that take place next month. And with business spanning multiple screens, “we want to make sure that Nielsen is there with us measuring,” he says. Univision, whose content is licensed to appear on more than 200 million devices (including 30 million Xboxes) and Nielsen, which has been criticized for inadequate Hispanic samples, are engaged in a cross-platform measurement test right now. Falco hopes to have results in time for the upfront.

“Much of the viewing is fragmenting across many different platforms and screens,” Falco says. “We’re going to be there on every one of those screens. And we want to make sure that Nielsen is there with us measuring, so we can go back to our advertising partners and provide evidences of the ROI and the engagement they’re looking for.”

A few months after Turner joined Univision, Comcast’s NBCU hired media buyer Mike Rosen to head up ad sales at Telemundo, putting two execs with little Spanishlanguage market experience in charge of the two biggest networks in the category.

“It’s a good sign that the Hispanic market is attracting these individuals that may not have worked in the space before, but these individuals personally realize the importance of the Hispanic market and the growth opportunities that exist,” says Da Costa of Wing.

Torres thinks the changes are more cyclical. “Things change, personnel change. It’s like an agency—the heads of the agencies all change all of a sudden,” she says. “Maybe it just happens to be that Univision and NBC are moving a little bit in the same time frame, but it kind of makes sense when you think that Univision has a completely new [management team]. Telemundo is in the same vein. New ownership, Comcast, is also trying to grow ratings and also trying to grow revenue.”

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The Man With the Plan

While Falco worked with Turner at NBC, he says it’s not just about hiring someone he’s comfortable with. “It’s hiring people I know have a proven track record. I think Keith is clearly one of the three best sales people I’ve ever seen in the industry, along with [retired longtime Fox ad sales head] Jon Nesvig and Joe Abruzzese at Discovery,” Falco says. Among Turner’s accomplishments is overseeing the first $3 billion upfront in TV history while at NBC. “And he did it twice,” Falco says.

But media buyers say Turner has things to learn about the Hispanic market.

“I don’t think it’s an insurmountable learning curve,” says Torres. “[Turner] coming in and selling the market is probably a little bit less impactful as someone who’s been in the market a long time, who knows the market a little bit better. He’s selling programming. He knows how to do that well.”

Torres expects Turner to have time to learn the market and gain credibility. “He has instant credibility in the network that he’s selling,” she says. “Will I fully believe in his complete assessment of the marketplace? Probably not. But there’s plenty of infrastructure in that organization to give him the credibility that he needs. So while I may not believe what he’s selling exactly, I believe in what he’s selling.”

Turner is confident about his ability to adapt to Spanish-language TV. “Randy uses this great line about speaking television. It’s about sales, it’s about relationships, it’s about television, it’s about broadcasting, it’s about brand,” he says. “The fact that it’s Spanish-language, I don’t worry about that. I’m sure [Mike Rosen] doesn’t worry about that either. We’ve been doing this long enough that it’s about TV advertising, and that’s the same in any language.”

Turner says he didn’t know a lot of the members of the sales staff when he first arrived at Univision. “The ones that I have met obviously I’ve been very impressed with,” he says. “We did make some changes in the business development group, we’ve given more of an ownership to the network sales group, so we did make some changes. But we’ve got some really hungry sales people here that are really passionate about this brand and about this company, so I feel good about where we are as a division.”

Turner also hired Steve Mandala, who had run the Telemundo sales business for Turner at NBC, as executive VP of network sales. “So between he and Randy and I, we’re putting the old team back together,” Turner says.

Falco and Turner departed NBC as it spiraled from dominance to disaster. Turner was head of sales at the NFL before rejoining Falco because of what he saw being built at Univision. “Now, NBC’s in my rear-view mirror,” Turner says. “I worked there for 20 years, I had a great career there. But that’s yesterday’s news. The new news is Univision and where we’re going.”

Speaking The Language

Part of their job at Univision will be educating potential clients about the importance of communicating with the Hispanic market. “There’s a large segment that believes in who we are and what we’re doing, and there’s still a big portion of it that don’t get it yet. Our job is to convince them otherwise,” Turner says. After 30 years in the business, Turner has relationships with many decision-makers. “If I don’t know the person behind the door, I certainly know somebody that does. And between Steve Mandala, Trisha Pray [executive VP for network sales] and Roberto Ruiz [senior VP of strategy and insights], there’s a team here that knows where to go.”

Turner says he has found out “how absolutely useless my two years of Spanish in college were.” He says he’s currently working with a tutor to brush up on his language skills. “I think it’s important. A lot of the business we do is with people who speak English, but I think to understand the product and what’s on the screen, I’m going to get my Spanish up to speed.”

It isn’t quite there yet, especially when it comes to using his Spanish to order food in a restaurant. “I can’t eat spicy foods, so that hasn’t been an issue yet,” he says, adding, “I do know how to say ‘cerveza.’”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette