Hispanic b’casters ready for primetime

Univision, Telemundo and Azteca gear up for upfronts

MIAMI — A fast-growing demo with increasing economic muscle will be the common theme at this week’s upfront pitches by the three U.S. Spanish-lingo broadcasters. Market leader Univision Communications, NBC U’s No. 2-ranked Telemundo, and fledgling Azteca America all want a bigger slice of the TV ad pie.

At the same time, Univision’s relationship with key programming supplier Televisa has entered yet another ugly phase; Telemundo’s original programming strategy has hit some bumps; and Azteca America and parent TV Azteca are embroiled in scandal and legal problems.

Televisa chairman-CEO Emilio Azcarraga unexpectedly ankled his post as vice chair of the Univision board last week and Televisa filed suit over royalty payments. One cause of the discord is the February promotion of Ray Rodriguez to the post of prexy and chief operating officer.

Cherry-picking

Under a long-term accord, the Mexican media conglom supplies the ratings-grabbing telenovelas that fuel Univision’s primetime success. With no changes, as yet, to the programming license agreement, Univision can continue to cherry-pick the best that Televisa produces and will present the “new” (to U.S. auds) novelas Wednesday.

“We’ve had record-breaking audience numbers and we are in strong competitive position,” co-prexy of network sales Tom McGarrity told Daily Variety. “And it’s not just vis-a-vis Telemundo. It’s against NBC, CBS and ABC.”

The flagship Univision net edged out at least one of the Big Four during primetime in the 18-34 demo on three out of four nights from January to March.

World Cup exclusive

Univision also will tout its World Cup exclusive, for which it has already sold 60% of its ad inventory, McGarrity said. “We will sell another 30%-35% at the upfront,” he predicted.

Despite growth, only 150 of the top 300 U.S. TV advertisers buy time on either Univision and Telefutura, or feevee Galavision, McGarrity acknowledged.

“We have 45 of the top 50 and 85 of the top 100,” he said. “We’re solid with the top 100 … and each year we make inroads.”

He predicted the pending inclusion of Univision on Nielsen’s NTI service — testing begins this year — will help. For agencies that don’t subscribe to the Hispanic ratings service, “We’re off the radar.”

And the Spanish-language broadcasters say they still aren’t getting their fair share.

All Spanish-language TV options combined attract 7% of U.S. viewers ages 18-49 but less than 2% of marketing commitments, said Steve Mandala, exec VP of sales at Telemundo, who calculates an industrywide gap of $800 million.

Telemundo also has made inroads, Mandala said. Three years ago its ad client base numbered 105; today it is 146.

With NBC’s backing, Telemundo has been upping its original production slate, betting heavily on primetime novelas produced via partnerships in Miami, Mexico and Colombia.

Telemundo has yet to unseat Univision in the ratings game in primetime, and Univision’s Telefutura now lays claim to the No. 2 spot in certain dayparts.

Upcoming sudsers “El Cuerpo del deseo” and “La Tormenta” will be presented Tuesday at the Telemundo upfront, the first with Don Browne at the helm.

Azteca America will hold its upfront in New York today. Last month it announced it has national coverage, which it expected to emphasize at its upfront.

Still, its reach of 80% of U.S. Hispanics falls short of Telemundo’s 92% coverage and Univision’s 98%.

Also, the net is operating under a legal cloud. A fraud trial involving TV Azteca chairman Ricardo Salinas, former CEO Pedro Padilla and Azteca America prexy Luis Echarte is set to begin as soon as the end of May.

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