As the top distribution executive at U.S. Spanish-
language media leader Univision Communications,
president of distribution sales and
marketing Tonia O’Connor heads a group
that negotiates with myriad affiliates
about an array of products from broadcast
and cable network carriage, to video
on demand (which Univision has tried to
pioneer with its Hispanic audience) and the
U.S. Spanish-language media leader’s upcoming
TV Everywhere initiative, Uvideos. Multichannel
News online news editor Mike Reynolds
recently surveyed the distribution landscape
with O’Connor, who learned the affiliate trade at
Gemstar-TV Guide International.
MCN: Tonia, How many years with Univision now?
Tonia O’Connor: It’ll be five years in January. When I
met with people in the organization, they had a view
that cable operators were competitors. It really was an
old-school broadcast mentality. We have done a 180.
[CEO] Randy Falco, [executive chairman] Haim Saban,
executives at the highest levels of the company, they
believe in and are extremely supportive of our distribution
partnerships. We have to get the support, we have
to provide the business plan, it has to be good business
for us, obviously, but it’s amazing how much our
company has evolved in that sense. We had some
relationships, but the [multichannel-video providers]
are our most important customers.
MCN: You’ve got deals for your three cable networks
with Dish Network, AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS
and it was recently announced on your earnings call
that you also have an agreement with Cablevision
Systems. What is the status of your discussions?
TO: We have agreements with four of the top nine providers
and discussions are underway with all of the national
distributors. We are beating our expectations.
MCN: What has been the reception to the novela, sports
and news networks, the three primary category drivers
TO: Sports is very big, as you know, and our anchor
content there is Mexican League soccer, which is the
most popular sports content with U.S. Hispanics. But
novelas are a phenomenon. It’s really amazing when
you think about it. We were just talking about the
Emmys and the different genres of programming that
viewers are leaning into. It’s been nearly 50 years on the
air in this country with our networks and they just
continue to be a ratings success for us.
MCN: And the news channel?
TO: It’s on Dish [Network] and will launch on the
others [at] the beginning of next year. Most of the ramping
up will happen in 2013, in terms of the distribution.
MCN: Is that a function of making the channel better,
or of making the news operation better?
TO: It’s from a prioritization perspective with the distributors
and in terms of bandwidth availability. I believe
we’ve had the success that we’ve had because we really
do approach all of those efforts purely from the standpoint
of a partnership. I mean, we don’t ever want to be
reduced to a commodity; we don’t want to just be another
network or another service and we take very seriously the
responsibility of trying to grow both of our businesses.
We’re rolling out three new networks in an environment
where distributors are trying to take away networks.
MCN: Speaking of expanding, you’ve recently added a
number of senior executives to your team.
TO: Renee Plato joined us from Disney and is overseeing
our digital efforts. Rob Thun joined us from AT&T
and he is overseeing really the deal team, which is both
business affairs and financial. Plus, he manages
relationships with the national accounts.
What I love about it is that we’ve really assembled a
group of people that have very diverse yet very complementary
backgrounds and skill sets so it has really positioned
us very, very well, given the complexities of the
marketplace now and the relationships that we have with
the various distributors. Everybody really needs to be an
expert on the content. I don’t care which platform we’re
distributing on, it almost becomes insignificant or it’s really
about creating the best consumer experience that we
can create working in partnership with the distributors.
MCN: Uvideos is part of that umbrella, a portal to
the best and brightest across various Univision networks
and content. What is its status?
TO: It’s in beta. We’ll be launching it in the fall and we’ll
be promoting it on air. Again, that is about trying to deliver
the best possible consumer experience that we can
because, again, that’s not an “if,” that’s just a “when” and
a “how.” The demand is there; they want it.
MCN: Where do things stand with the English-language
news/lifestyle joint venture with ABC? Is there a digital
component that will precede the linear network
in time for the election?
TO: The Disney team is going to be overseeing the
distribution and the advertising sales, so I’m not in a
position to talk about the steps there.
MCN: Does the TV Everywhere movement push video
on demand to the backburner?
TO: I don’t think so. Everything that we make available
to the consumer on a VOD basis, everything we make
available to them on broadband through TV Everywhere,
we’ll also be making that available to them through the
set-top box. And as a viewer at different times you have
different needs or you want to watch differently. I think
if you’re sitting in your house and you’ve got your big
screen, beautiful TV you’re going to sit and watch on the
set top box. Right? But if I’m somewhere remotely I’ll
watch on my laptop or I’ll watch on my iPad, or phone. I
mean it’s the convenience factor, right?
MCN: In 2009, Univision was going through its first
round of cash in exchange for retransmission rights.
Do these deals expire in 2012?
TO: Yes, well, the first time around there was a cliff,
right? And we were very open about that with the entire
marketplace. It was obvious because we went from being
a pure must-carry to allow retransmission consent. So
we had a cliff. That was a very interesting time in my life.
But we no longer have a cliff and there are deal expirations
all over the place. However, what I would say —
and this is really important because, again, this is the
essence of what myself and my team are doing here —
is that because we are pursuing these partnerships we
are in constant conversations, whether we’re staring
down the barrel at a renewal or not. The Dish deal was
not done around renewal. That was Dish being opportunistic,
identifying with the quality of the content, the
importance of the content for the Hispanic viewer and
wanting to leverage that to grow their business.