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ABC News, Univision Joint Venture Not Looking to Compete With CNN, MSNBC, Fox News

Ben Sherwood
Brian To/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Ben Sherwood

"We want to be the first movers in the space," says ABC News president Ben Sherwood of the English-language cable network aimed at Hispanics.

After 13 months of talks, ABC News and Univision went public Monday with their intention to launch an English-language cable news channel aimed at the growing acculturated Hispanic population in the United States. The channel is still unnamed and without distribution agreements but is targeted to launch in the first half of 2013 with a website and other digital content including social media set to roll out this summer in order to capitalize on the interest in November’s presidential election.

The two companies first began talking in March 2011, a few months after Ben Sherwood took over as president of ABC News. The discussions began when Univision executives approached ABC News about the possibility of integrating Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos into one of ABC’s Republican primary debates. Ramos did not end up participating in any of the debates, but the discussion between Sherwood and Univision Networks president Cesar Conde and Univision News president Isaac Lee segued to a larger partnership.

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“We’re not going out to take on CNN or MSNBC or Fox [News],” Sherwood told The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re well established, they’re general service providers. And that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to do something customized and culturally relevant for a burgeoning population that eventually, we believe, will attract beyond that population. We want to be the first movers in the space. We’re not going out to compete with the general service providers.”

Sherwood stressed that the venture would not be confined to news but also include “lifestyle” and “health and wellness” content, which could portend offerings in the daytime talk genre. He would not reveal whether the new network would have morning or evening news programs. Currently, Univision produces a popular 6:30 p.m. broadcast anchored by Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas. Most of the network’s 62-owned stations also produce their own broadcasts. And Ramos’ weekly Sunday morning public affairs program boasts an audience that is 20 years younger than its English-language broadcast competitors.

“We want to deliver news in all platforms to all Hispanics, not only the Spanish speakers,” Lee said.

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Sherwood noted that while the channel eventually will be all original content, there could be some repurposing of ABC News and Univision content during late-night hours, at least in the early stages.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. ABC News and Univision will share production costs, and a management team for the new network is expected to be in place by summer. Early reports indicated that the network would be based in Miami, where Univision already has a newsgathering operation. But Lee said that they are now looking at other cities; certainty New York, where ABC News has its operations, is among them.

Sherwood said the company would make Spanish-language tutorials available to all ABC News employees with “a division-wide goal of being functionally bilingual within the next five years.” For his part, Sherwood is diligently studying Spanish with Rosetta Stone software.

Univision is the top-rated Spanish-language broadcaster among the younger viewers sought after by advertisers -- often besting some English-language competitors, including NBC. With the Hispanic population in the U.S. exceeding 50 million, more and more content providers are expanding into Spanish-language programming. CNN already has Latino-targeted CNN en Espanol; ESPN and Fox both have multiple Spanish-language cable networks.

Haim Saban’s Saban Capital Group and multiple private-equity firms, including Providence Equity Partners, own Univision Communications while Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa has a stake in the company. Univision recently launched three new Spanish-language channels on Dish Latino that leverage Televisa content: telenovela channel Univision tlNovelas, a version of Mexico-based news network FOROtv and sports destination Univision Deportes, which has broader distribution on Dish.
 
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie