Telenovela, sports channels also in works

Buttressed by an influx of capital from its core programming supplier Televisa, Univision is planning to launch three Spanish-lingo cable channels, starting with a 24-hour news channel this year. Plans are also afoot for telenovela and sports channels.

Univision’s outgoing CEO, Joe Uva, revealed the information in a private conference call with investors during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings announcement on Feb. 24. Info was buried in a transcript and only recently came to light.

Univision’s rights deals with the Mexican national soccer team, Mexican Soccer League and other pacts would provide high-demand content for a sports channel, Uva said.

The telenovela channel would be fed by Mexican conglom Televisa’s top-rated content. Last year, Televisa agreed to buy a 5% stake in Univision, which settled a longstanding feud between the two companies and assured Univision access to Televisa’s shows for an extended number of years.

Meanwhile, sources confirmed the move to launch a 24-hour news channel. It comes at an opportune time, as both the U.S. and Mexico are gearing up for presidential elections in 2012. Univision has the existing infrastructure as well as reporters and bureaus across the country. In addition, local stations are primed to produce their own news segments.

Univision currently airs newscasts in the morning, evening and latenight. New feevee will be independent from Univision’s cable channel Galavision, which is the top Hispanic cable channel in the U.S. in ratings and distribution.

According to Univision, its late evening news aud has grown by 53% among total viewers and adults 25-54 in the past 10 years.

The network recently tapped journo Ilia Calderon as anchor for the late evening edition. Calderon continues her role as co-anchor of “Primer impacto,” one of the highest-rated daily news shows Stateside and in a dozen Latin American countries.

Univision also may be able to capitalize on the openings for new, independently owned channels at Comcast Corp., the U.S.’s largest cable operator. As part of Comcast’s deal with the FCC to secure approval for its merger with NBCUniversal, Comcast agreed to launch 10 independently owned channels on its systems over the next eight years. Four of those slots are reserved for companies that have Hispanics as majority owners or managers.

Univision’s news would go up against CNN en Espanol, which has been revamping its programming since late last year and has brought in new talent, sets, a new state-of-the-art studio in Miami and even a redesigned logo.

Univision has been making key exec hires in recent months, including former AOL and NBC exec Randy Falco as exec VP and chief operating officer; former Petry Holdings CEO Sandy Brown as Univision Sports prexy; Page One Media CEO and Poder magazine editor-in-chief Isaac Lee as Univision News prexy; and Roberto Llamas as exec VP and chief human resources officer.

Univision is still searching for a replacement for Uva, after opting not to renew his contract. Uva leaves on April 2, after four years in the post.

Univision is understood to be prepping an IPO, four years after the company was bought for $13 billion by a consortium of investors led by Haim Saban, who was unavailable for comment on the new cablers.

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