Univision Expects Strong Upfront Haul

"The groundswell of the census is really creating more demand than ever for Univision and all of our properties," says David Lawenda, president of advertising sales & marketing, Univision Communications.

Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications enters this year's upfront advertising market with ratings momentum, having beaten NBC in the 18-49 demo on about 50 percent of nights in the first quarter, thanks to telenovelas, such as Eva Luna, and other popular programs. Plus, latest census data is showing continued strong growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S.

David Lawenda, president of advertising sales & marketing, Univision Communications, will be one of the presenters at the company's upfront event next Thursday. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter's New York bureau chief Georg Szalai, he talked about how marketers are moving money out of English-language media, how a recent deal with Mexican broadcast giant Televisa is creating new opportunities for ad integration and how Univision is pitching itself as an alternative to marketers should the NFL season not take place.

The Hollywood Reporter: With the 2010 census providing the data to bolster the growing influence of the Hispanic consumer, do you expect the CPM gap with English-language networks to close this year?

David Lawenda: The groundswell of the census is really creating more demand than ever for Univision and all of our properties [including] online and radio. The heightened awareness around the census is having active clients - who have been spending healthy with us – looking to do more. In some cases, they are literally doubling down their investment. But we also have a lot of inactive clients taking note. They are now coming to us and asking for our help. They really want to understand where to start and how to win with Hispanic consumers. The reality is the census result is only demonstrating what we already knew: the Hispanic population in the U.S. is driving growth across many major categories. It's definitely great momentum going into the 2011/2012 upfront, but the groundswell really began last year in anticipation of the results.

THR: What is your expectation overall for the upfront?

Lawenda: We are very bullish. We are extremely well positioned for strong results on a dollar volume and price point. We reported 22 percent upfront dollar volume growth last year. Most notable is that a lot of advertisers moved scatter buys into the upfront. That boosted everybody’s dollar volume growth. English-language networks were thrilled to report, I think, 10-15 percent upfront growth. But a lot of that was just scatter moving into the upfront. So, from an absolute standpoint we outperformed English-language. But we actually did not have as much scatter moving into the upfront. The majority of our 22 percent growth was organic growth from English-language. We know this because eight of the top 10 CPG (consumer package goods) companies told us they moved money from English-language to Spanish.

THR: Where do you see volume and pricing growth this year?

Lawenda: We are expecting similar dollar volume growth as last year. It could reach 20 percent once again. And in terms of CPM growth, we will absolutely be writing business in double digits.

THR: Will you outperform the English-language networks?

Lawenda: I have no doubt about that. Marketers are telling us they are moving money from English-language to Spanish, and specifically to Univision.

THR: And when will you close the CPM gap?

Lawenda: My team and I are laser-focused on closing the revenue and pricing gap with English-language networks, and each year we make progress towards that end. When we close it – I can’t tell you.

THR: How quickly will upfront sales move this year?

Lawenda: Given the strength of the marketplace, we expect things to move on the quick side. We are deep into upfront conversations. We are actively engaged with some agencies and some accounts right now. We have not closed business to-date. But I think the market should start moving soon after upfront week.

THR: Is the potential loss of the NFL season an opportunity for Univision, which has television rights to multiple soccer leagues?

Lawenda: It is a very positive thing for us. The NFL season is September to January. In that same time period, we’ve got Futbol Liga Mexicana; 17 regularly scheduled season games and the playoffs. So, we are an incredible alternative to the NFL, and we are actively speaking to advertisers as they make contingency plans should the NFL not come to a resolution. We are a great opportunity to place those dollars.

THR: Anything new or special you will offer or push in the upfront this year?

Lawenda: One of the biggest pieces of news for us this year, or course, is our enhanced deal with Televisa. We are going into this upfront season with a new ability to work with marketers to create integration opportunities into Televisa-produced content. We were never able to do that before. We do so much integration already, but in Univision Studios-produced content. Now, nothing is off limits.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai