Univision, ABC News Talk Up Joint Venture

Partners Disclose Channel Plans at Paley Center
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Top executives from Univision Communications and ABC News gathered Dec. 11 in New York to offer a glimpse of their plans to launch a joint-venture cable news and lifestyle channel in the fall of 2013.

Univision News president Isaac Lee and ABC News President Ben Sherwood spoke at The Paley Center for the Media, where they were interviewed by Paley CEO Pat Mitchell about the rationale for said venture — and its inherent challenges.

“It’s really about exchanging DNA,” Sherwood said about the partnership with Univision, an arrangement that effectively kicked off earlier this year with the September launch of a co-branded, English-language website delivering news from a Hispanic perspective. ABC News and Univision have already worked hand in hand in the coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions; the Nov. 6 presidential election; coverage of Hurricane Sandy; and, more recently, the horrific school shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school on Dec. 14.

Both Univision and ABC News are betting on the huge market represented by second- and third-generation Hispanics, U.S.-born consumers who prefer their media in English.

“We are not talking about segregating the population; that would be a mistake,” Sherwood said in explaining how Univision and ABC will work together to make sure they deliver news in an inclusive -- not exclusive -- manner.

Both Sherwood and Lee acknowledged that distribution will be among the top challenges, though both remained hopeful that new technologies and channels will allow for a fast penetration of their venture. (Disney/ABC Media Networks will take on distribution chores for the new channel.)

“[TV mogul Emilio] Azcárraga Milmo once told me: ‘Content is king … distribution is King Kong,’ ” Lee said when a question arose about the importance of distributing the new channel.

During the hourlong breakfast discussion, Mitchell pressed Lee and Sherwood on the name of the upcoming network, though both declined comment.

“Ben already knows that, but he doesn’t want to tell me!,” Lee joked.

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