Univision Plugs Retrans

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New York— On stage at the Spanish-language media giant’s upfront presentation to advertisers, Univision officials trumpeted product placement and other integrated marketing opportunities. Backstage, Univision Communications’ new CEO, Joe Uva, talked about another revenue stream: retransmission consent for its stations at a buck per subscriber.

Whereas Univision has largely played the must-carry card in the past, Uva said during a press conference following the upfront presentation here last Wednesday that “renegotiating retransmission consent is a top priority now” under new ownership group Broadcasting Media Partners.

AUDIENCE CONNECTION

Continued gains among 18-to-34-year-old adults against the Big 4 networks aside, Uva cited viewer calls asking about the best schools and voting areas to local Univision stations as further proof positive of the ties that bond the leading Spanish-language broadcaster to its audience — and evidence of its strong position in the market.

“We’re in a unique position of being connected to the fastest-growing segment of the population,” he added. “We see a lot of value in that. That value is $1 per subscriber.”

Univision owns and operates 62 TV stations in the United States and Puerto Rico, with “the bulk” of the current distribution agreements set to expire at the end of 2008, Uva said.

Univision, thus, becomes the latest broadcaster playing the retransmission-consent card, a trend that has seen broadcast station groups such as Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Hearst-Argyle Television extract cash or value-in-kind payments from cable operators and other distributors.

Uva acknowledged that some tough restransmission-consent bargaining — which could include video-on-demand content for cable operators — lies ahead.

“The negotiations, predictably, are going to be hard,” Uva said. “But we have a somewhat unique relationship that the English-language broadcasters don’t have — a real connection to viewers and the community.”

That connection, while valuable, doesn’t appear to be worth $1 per sub — at least in the case of Lexington, Ky., where Insight Communications recently struck a licensing deal with Univision.

Insight vice president of programming Melani Griffith said the operator placed Univision on its Classic service lineup there on April 12 at the request of its regional vice president, with an eye toward adding “cable-nevers” and switching subscribers from direct-broadcast satellite.

“As a company, we typically don’t believe that one network can make that much of a difference, but the field team and district vice president said there was a lot of opportunity with Univision,” she said. Griffith noted that the gambit would be evaluated at year’s end by tallying the number of new subs that Univision helps attract weighed against the incremental costs for launching the network. The tally will be compared to overall subscriber addition goals.

Griffith wouldn’t disclose the license fee Insight is paying to Univision, but she did indicate that it was significantly less than $1 per monthly subscriber.

“I could never go into my CFO’s office with that kind of ridiculous offer,” she said, noting that Univision properties are now in six of the operator’s 13 markets. “He would laugh me out of the door.”

Univision declined to comment by press time about the Insight deal and any specific retransmission-consent negotiations.

PASSIONATE PRESENTATION

Playing against the form of the previous two upfronts, which featured a roll call of new series and mentions of returning programming, Univision’s presentation pointed to only a handful of entries among the 30 new shows it was launching across the flagship service, sister broadcast network TeleFutura and cable cousin Galavisión.

Univision heralded weeknight primetime novelas Pasion, set in the swashbuckling-pirate era, and Muchachitas Come Tu, which will dramatize issues of school, friendship and young love.

Appearing on stage, singer/actor Jennifer Lopez talked up her five-part miniseries, Como Ama una Mujer, inspired by true-life events and based on her first Spanish-language album of the same name. Lopez will serve as creator and executive producer on the project. The previously announced Amas de Casa Desesperadas, the Spanish-language version of Desperate Housewives that is being produced by Disney-ABC International Television Latin America and Univision, was also lauded.

RBD: La Familia, featuring the international recording group RBD in a blend of fiction and reality, was also spotlighted during the presentation.

As for TeleFutura, the emphasis was again placed on its weeknight Hollywood movie block, Cine de las Estrellas. In addition, TeleFutura hyped upcoming one-hour drama Asi es la Vida, during which a different, five-part passion-filled, real-life story airs every weeknight at 10 p.m.

Galavisión, meanwhile, will deliver personal-makeover show Moda al Rescate, which is rife with product-integration opportunities in the clothes, hair-care, accessories and makeup categories. Also coming up is family friendly wildlife show Vida Salvaje, an acquisition from the British Broadcasting Corp.

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