From an early age, Univision’s Friday Abernethy had aspirations about working in media, but her path into the field wasn’t a direct one. “When I was offered a position within the banking industry at JPMorgan Chase at the start of my career, I thought that was a really unbelievable opportunity to learn an industry and be trained from such an esteemed organization,” she recalled. “The people I met, the departments I interacted with, and everything in between was simply a great way to launch my work life.”
Segueing into GE Capital, Abernethy spent the first six years of her career in financial services. “I really appreciated the intellectual aspects of the jobs, but I was not really passionate in what I was doing,” she said. “Since this was in the infancy of the internet, I just thought it was a golden opportunity. I wanted to be part of it.”
Flash to Viacom Media Networks in 1998, specifically MTV Networks, and Abernethy was the company’s first internet hire. Following her most recent position at Pop TV, which she helped transition from the TV listings channel TVGN to a full-scale entertainment network, Abernethy is now senior VP, content distribution and business development at Univision Communications.
She manages the team responsible for negotiating sales and licensing efforts for both television and digital platforms under a variety of business models. This includes broadcast television, sports and Spanish-language programming, and with all major linear and online distributors of content (along with subscription video-on-demand, over the top and social distributors).
“The increasing opportunities in digital right now are the new normal,” Abernethy noted. “Nothing is really complete at present without some digital component.”
“We reach the Hispanic audience and it is really important that we are educating all of the partners and platforms out there about the Hispanic consumer and the growth that is available on all the platforms of Univision Communications,” she said, citing the nearly 60 million Hispanics in the United States. These platforms include Univision, UniMás, Galavisión, El Rey Network and Spanish-language sports network TUDN (formerly Univision Deportes Network).
Selling Content and Culture
“What is really great about Univision is how it provides content in culture and in language, which I think is really important as the third-generation Hispanics continue to embrace their heritage,” Abernethy said. “If you are an outsider looking in the media industry, you have no idea how important the licensing revenue is for any media company.
"These are leverage negotiations, so you can ultimately have very challenging conversations with clients, but you work with them in such intense and intimate moments you can also become very good friends with them after the deal is done.”
“We also work in a business right now so much more digitally focused,” she noted. “One of the first deals I did in partnership with other people within Univision was to figure out how we could get on the Sling platform, which was sort of our first foray into this new digital world. Since then, and as we continue to evolve as an organization, I still have my footing heavily within the MVPD world, but my team also oversees AVOD deals, third-party app deals and any new MVPD deals that are coming into fruition.”
Abernethy also cited wireless as a new arena that is now becoming more prevalent, as well as a space Univision wants to partner in.
“The field is now so much broader in how we can license our product, we must ensure that our audience has access to it,” she said. “It’s about making sure that our content is available across all platforms.”
“As tough as Friday can be, she is also very fair, very direct and always truthful,” said Henry Ahn, Univision’s president of content distribution and partnerships, who joined the company less than two years ago from Scripps Networks Interactive. “Your reputation does not happen overnight. It is built over many years in the course of a career. Even before I wasn’t working with her, I knew of Friday’s reputation as someone you could simply trust.
“Friday has a great attitude; not just at work but in life in general,” he added. “People like her, she likes to be around people, and in our business that goes a very long way.”
Cox Communications senior VP of content distribution Andy Albert called Abernethy a “great people leader.”
“Friday is an extremely well-respected, tough-but-fair negotiator with deep experience in content distribution,” Albert said. “Increasingly valued as the industry shifts, she is highly adaptable to changes, handles adversity well and is able to roll with the punches. She’s also well-liked and a great people leader, someone who many of her extensive contacts in the industry would jump to work with.”
What’s in a Name?
As for her unique first name, it’s nothing more than a nickname, Abernethy said. “My real first name is Kristen, but I have always been called Friday,” she said. “My parents are Midwest, wonderful and earnest people, and not necessarily cool and hip enough to name a child Friday. But I was born on a Friday and it just stuck as a nickname from an early age.
“And, let’s face it — it’s certainly better than being called Sunday or Monday!”
Career Highlights: Launching the Logo network at Viacom at a time when the LGBTQ community was not embraced; expanding into the digital space.
At Univision, launching sports network TUDN.
Quotable: “We are here working for big organizations at a time of great change. But when there is a mission behind what you are personally doing, it makes the work all that much more meaningful. It gives you a purpose, which really drives me.”