Univision Ad Sales Blend NBC’s Heyday with Spanish Accent

CEO Randy Falco reconstitutes Peacock team as net takes aim at English-lingo broadcasters

Can you say “NBC” in Spanish? The ad-sales team at Spanish-language network Univision is led by the man who shepherded the Peacock’s outreach to sponsors during the heyday of “Friends,” “Frasier” and the “Law & Order” franchises.

Keith Turner served as president of NBC’s ad sales from 1998 to 2006, and spent more than 20 years at the Peacock. Since being named president of ad sales and marketing at Univision last August of last year, he has hired two other former prominent NBC Universal ad sales executives. Steven Mandala, now exec VP of advertising at Univision (who did a previous stint at the company), once ran ad sales for all of NBC Universal’s cable properties. And John Kelly, who spent 12 years at NBC Universal in ad sales for many of its news properties, was named exec VP of Univision’s digital ad sales last week.

Should sponsors say “pavo real” – the Spanish equivalent of “peacock” – when dealing with Univision these days?

In an interview, Turner demurred (he said he has “engaged a tutor” to help him beef up two years’ of college Spanish so he can “understand the product” and better sell it). He called his team a mix of “people with proven track records in combination with people at Univision who are already here with proven track records.” Longtime Univision execs Trisha Pray and Roberto Ruiz, for instance, continue in senior sales roles at the company.

Even so, it’s hard to dismiss the feeling that Univision CEO Randy Falco, who rose to second-in-command at NBCUniversal before Jeff Zucker got the nod to replace NBCU topper Bob Wright, is trying to put the band together again – and has something to prove to the company for which he once toiled. Univision’s regular smacking of NBC in promotional materials – a new campaign touting the fact the Spanish broadcaster trumped NBC in the most recent sweeps period marks the second time Univision has put the Peacock in its sights – doesn’t do much to dispel the notion.

And then there are bon mots like this, from Mr. Turner: “I was there for 20 years, when they used to have something called ‘Must-See TV.’ That’s gone away.”

Falco and his team are boosting Univision at a hotly competitive time. A new generation of Spanish-speaking consumers is growing, and, TV executives say, demanding content on par with what English-language networks offer, along with the familiar telenovelas and episodes of “Sabado Gigante.”  In a signal this demographic is attractive, News Corp. last year launched MundoFox, joining the fray with Univision and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo (which recently named former Univision chief Joe Uva to oversee its operations). Meanwhile, Univision and Walt Disney’s ABC are teaming up to launch Fusion, a cable network aimed at U.S. Hispanics, in the second half of 2013.

Advertisers are spending more with Spanish-language TV outlets. According to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, Spanish language TV ad spending rose 20% in the fourth quarter of 2012, boosted by higher sales levels at the broadcast networks in the category. Spanish-language TV ad spending rose 15% for the entire year, compared with just 9% at English-language broadcast networks – and this in a year with a Summer Olympics.

Turner and his team are now starting to meet with ad buyers in advance of the so-called “upfront” sales season, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the fall. They are eager to pass NBC and move on to a new target, he suggested: “Number four isn’t enough. We’re going to keep going.”