Univision to roll out new cable channels

As the competition among media giants heats up to capture the Hispanic audience in the U.S., Univision plans to up its game by rolling out dedicated telenovela, sports and news cable channels over the next 18 months.

What’s more, Univision is creating a commerce website that execs say will be a Spanish-lingo version of the popular discount and coupon service Groupon.

The key to the strategy is Univision’s partnership with Mexican programming powerhouse Televisa, which agreed to take a 5% stake in Univision in October after settling a longstanding dispute over royalties. The newly-mended relationship, Univision chief operating officer Randy Falco said Tuesday, “allows us to access a lot more content, content that we can exploit both on TV and online. We want to be able to fill out all this shelf space that we have.”

At its core, the company is the Univision and Telefutura nets; its TV and radio stations, cabler Galavision and digital properties, said Falco, “but we can be a much broader multi-platform company.”

In July, Univision plans to launch a dedicated telenovela channel called Uninovela, which will be taking an existing channel operated by Televisa and doing “plug and play” version for the U.S. Next year, Univision intends to launch Univision Deportes, a sports channel that will feature Mexican League soccer. Much of the sports programming on Univision will migrate to the new channel. And some time before the U.S. presidential election, Univision’s goal is to launch an all-news channel in the U.S. (Daily Variety, March 21).

Univision’s expansion plans come at a critical time. Competitors like Comcast and Fox are jumping into the market. Last week, Fox said it is creating a new unit, Fox Hispanic Media, to house cablers targeting bilingual viewers. What’s more, Comcast, which through NBCUniversal already operates the Spanish-lingo broadcaster Telemundo and cabler Mun 2, said it is on track to launch at least one English-language channel with Hispanic management by the end of July 2012.

Falco said he is undeterred.

“We will keep doing what we are doing,” he said. “We understand the Hispanic viewer better than anybody. We know that we have to do it in-culture.”

News of the competition arrives on the heels of new U.S. census data that shows that the U.S. Hispanic population grew by 43% in the last decade, surpassing 50 million and exceeding projections.

That data, Falco said, is a wake-up call for advertisers and other media companies — growth figures that can only benefit Univision with greater leverage in carriage deals and higher ad rates.

“The census was a tipping point,” he added. He projects that marketers will earmark in the next few years nearly 10% of their total budgets for the Hispanic market, up from about 5% today.

As for the Groupon-like site, Univision doesn’t have a timetable yet for launch, but that “calls to action” on TV outlets will direct viewers to the site, Falco said.

Univision is now without a CEO, after the Univision board decided not to renew the contract of Joe Uva, who had been in the post for four years. Falco, the former NBC and AOL exec who joined as COO in January, has been rumored to be a leading candidate for the job. (Falco would not comment.)

What’s more, the growth plans arrive as speculation heats up that Haim Saban and Univision’s private equity backers are considering taking the company public. Falco said that is not a decision he gets to make, but suggested there may other alternatives beyond an IPO, including an outright sale to new buyers.

Given the prevailing winds in the media biz, Univision is in the catbird’s seat, Falco asserted.

“We have been at this for 50 years. What we can do now is take advantage of this incredible brand that has been built here.”

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