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Univision lathers cyber-soap opera

Endemol partners in online 'Vidas' venture

Univision has gone into cyberspace in a bid to explore other ways to connect with its U.S. Hispanic audience.

Univision Online, the interactive unit of the leading U.S.-Hispanic media conglom, has partnered with Endemol USA and veteran telenovela producer Carlos Sotomayor’s Amistad Prods. to create a 15-episode interactive webnovela, “Vidas cruzadas” (Crossed Lives).

Targeted to debut mid-2009 on Univision.com, webnovela reunites Kate del Castillo and Guy Ecker who starred in 1999 hit novela “La Mentira” (The Lie), produced by Sotomayor. Del Castillo recently toplined Fox Searchlight release “Under the Same Moon.”

” ‘Vidas cruzadas’ brings together proven partners and a proven genre, the telenovela, in a new medium,” says Cesar Conde, Univision’s executive VP and chief strategy officer.

With each weekly episode running just three to four minutes, “Vidas cruzadas” will be developed with extensive product placement and organic integration options for advertisers.

Romantic drama will be supported with a microsite featuring behind-the-scenes videos,  photos and interactive features such as blogs, live chats and forums.

Other interactive features include a sweepstakes where users will be able to act out a scene and upload their video for a chance to win a cameo appearance in the webnovela. The microsite will include trivia, polls, local tie-ins and exclusive cast interviews. Cellphone users can also tune into the webnovela.

In 2007, Univision.com produced its first webnovela, “Mi adorada Malena” (My Adored Malena), in partnership with Unilever. Featuring six weekly episodes, “Malena” generated high user participation and heavy traffic during its run. It was so successful that Univision adapted it into a one-hour TV special last December.

“This is the first truly interactive webnovela created by Endemol USA, and we are definitely excited about this partnership,” says Joerg Bachmaier, senior VP of digital media and business development.

“From the start of this partnership, our mutual goal was to establish this project as a template for many future projects,” he adds. “We are confident that this is only the beginning of a long and prosperous partnership between Endemol, Amistad and Univision.”

None of the partners would disclose the webnovela’s budget. “The industry has seen original digital projects varying in costs ranging from low six figures to several million dollars,” Bachmaier points out.

Del Castillo, Ecker, “Vidas cruzadas” creator Estela Sainz and Sotomayor formed Amistad Prods. two years ago in to produce original content for digital platforms, TV and film.

Univision’s portal has been the No. 1 most visited Spanish-language website among U.S. Hispanics for seven consecutive years, attracting an average of 15 million unique browsers and generating nearly 11 million video streams a month.

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