Mark Lopez has been an hombre ocupado since taking the helm of Univision Communications’s digital-facing initiatives in April.
The former Google executive, now executive vice president and general manager of Univision Digital, has helped the Spanish-language media firm rapidly spool up a variety of projects, including a partnership with Snapchat; the debut of a mobile app that turns viewers into a judge for La Banda, the music-focused reality show; the launch of a fantasy soccer service based on Liga MX; and Univision’s “Creator Network” that taps into online video’s growing talent pool.
Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner recently spoke with Lopez about these new projects and their role in Univision’s digital transformation. An edited transcript follows.
NTV: What was the big driver in your decision to join Univision?
Mark Lopez: I think the projects we’re putting together here are a great opportunity. When you look at the U.S. market opportunity and the consumers who make up that opportunity, the bulk of that growth is within the multicultural consumer.
Univision is uniquely positioned to go after that opportunity from the standpoint of the assets that the company has — the brand affinity that the Hispanic consumer has … the amount of experience with content development the company has historically, and currently the focus that [Univision has] to really bulk up [its] digital assets.
When you look at all of that, it provides a great platform to really build a very unique project, which, to me, is really about a next-generation media company going after the multicultural consumer, the growth consumer in the U.S. That’s really what attracted me to come to Univision to put that together.
NTV: Now that you’ve been on board for about six months, what are your top priorities as 2015 wraps up and we head into 2016?
ML: For us, the acceleration of our digital business is paramount — getting to scale faster when it comes to our core Hispanic consumer. We define scale as both extending our TV content and programming onto the digital realm and finding additional, incremental distribution areas for that content, whether that’s … YouTube, Snapchat or also extending into second-screen apps like the Screenz [an interactive TV developer] app that we’ve done. It’s about scaling that piece, but also looking at digital-only opportunities as we develop original content and as we help our other assets outside our core Spanish-language area develop and grow faster.
NTV: We’ve seen an increasing number of programmers develop and launch direct-to-consumer offerings that play outside of the traditional programmer distributor dynamic. Is this something Univision will also have to consider — a standalone digital service that features your primary offerings?
ML: I think we have opportunities to leverage our brand … to develop digital-only content initiatives, whether that’s original programming, whether that is tapping into the influencer market through the Univision Creator Network, or partnering with production houses like what we’re doing with Dirty Kitchen out of Colombia to develop original content.
We want to piggyback on what we currently have to develop, versus doing it all from scratch.
For us, the multicultural Hispanic space is a space that we have a ton of experience with our brand that spans 30 years, and we think that we can win in this space when it comes to digital.
NTV: Is a big digital presence still a nice-to-have complement, or has it become critical table stakes?
ML: When we look at our audience footprint, we really look holistically at what we have with both linear and digital. Univision as a whole reaches close to 40 million media consumers monthly. We know that the growth [along] those touch points is going to come mainly from digital. That’s why it’s critical for us. To develop the footprint and the scale, which we currently have, we want to accelerate but also to develop the knowhow to go after that consumer across the board.
NTV: What’s the biggest challenge in reaching consumers via digital? Finding ways to reach them when compared to how it’s done via traditional TV?
ML: I think reach and engagement is a challenge, but it also goes around the capabilities of provisioning content for each of the distribution windows that you’re going against.
It’s very different for us when we produce content for our O&O properties than it is for producing content with our UCN partners for YouTube [or] producing comedy content across Flama or even doing a Snapchat Live Story with our soccer content. All of those things bring different capabilities to the table and I think the winners will be the ones that can develop across all of those windows that matter and get content in front of consumers.
NTV: Let’s talk a bit about some specific digital-facing projects that are underway, starting with the Snapchat partnership. How did that come together, and what results have you seen so far?
ML: [Snapchat is] a very important window for a lot of our programming. Initially, we worked with them on our sports content to develop Live Stories for our live soccer matches, our U.S.-Mexico matches that they could basically promote on their Live Story feed. That worked very well, basically developing incremental audience for that content.
When you can develop 2 [million] to 3 million additional unique users out of that event, it’s definitely incremental in nature. From there, we really have migrated to develop more content pieces that we can distribute through Snapchat holistically among other distribution networks.
NTV: Univision’s Conecta app ties in engagement across Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat, Vine, YouTube and Twitter, allowing users to become La Banda’s “fourth judge.” How has this helped to increase engagement with the show?
ML: We developed that in partnership with Screenz. We ran that against La Banda, which is our reality show focused on music and it provides tremendous engagement during the show … Conecta allows us to get, on average, 30 minutes of extra engagement with that audience through the app.
NTV: Your Creator Network is an outlet for YouTubers and Viners. How is Univision leveraging that program, and are you making some of that content available through TV and digital?
ML: You could see the UCN [Univision Creator Network] being a standard MCN [multichannel network], but it’s not by any means. What we’re trying to do first is listen to what is trending in the marketplace — some of these creators are producing amazing content — and see what opportunities we have to bring them into both our tentpole events and with linear programming.
NTV: How do you pick who gets selected for that? Do they register or apply?
ML: As part of our UCN, we have a dedicated team that works with our creators. We work with the long tail as well as the fat tail. We work with the up-and-coming creators that have potentially very low traffic on YouTube … and want to go on and create more long-form video.
I would say that a lot of it is trial and error, but also it’s getting deeper relationships with the content creators and having the assets and the team in place to be able to do that. It’s critical for us, because that’s where the next generation talent will come from.
NTV: Univision Deportes launched its own soccer fantasy league in the U.S. this summer. What kind of a following has that seen since its launch? Is that purely ad-supported?
ML: We saw an opportunity to develop soccer-related fantasy product. We decided to launch our own that’s ad-supported, so we have partners like Ford. It’s scaling very nicely and focusing on soccer and what … we can bring on TV and [turning] that into a fantasy experience online.
Our hope for that is to take this dedicated audience and keep growing it and potentially continue to scale the advertising business, and look at potential ways to partner with [companies] that have different business models besides advertising.
NTV: In addition to locking in more engagement with viewers, particularly millennials, how are you monetizing some of these digital efforts? Have you blocked off some separate ad inventory for this, or are you looking at complementary subscription-based offerings?
ML: On the advertising side, I think we need to bring the entire message out to the marketplace. It is complementary to each other … We have current relationships with Hulu and with Netflix and with new services that are coming into the marketplace, like the new Verizon [go90] service. Our goal is also to become strategic partners from a content perspective to other distributors and partners, so we can balance a little bit of the revenue mix and it’s not all depending on advertising.