Upfronts: Univision Execs Slam English-Language Nets Declines in Hunt for Ad Revenue

Randy Falco Headshot 2011
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Univision

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19:  Univision COO Randy Falco attends Univision's Upfront reception featuring Hispanic America's Most Beloved Stars at The Edison Ballroom on May 19, 2011 in New York City.

"When you’re looking at ratings going down 11 percent at the so-called Big Four, it seems to be a very easy math problem to solve," says CEO Randy Falco.

Univision will launch more than 30 new shows during the 2013-14 season across flagship Univision and younger skewing UniMas including a Spanish-language version of Gossip Girl.

Gossip Girl Acapulco, as the title suggests, transfers the action from a New York City private school to the Mexican resort town. The series is a joint production of Univision and Mexico-based Televisa and will shoot in the U.S. and Mexico. This is the first time Univision has produced scripted adaptations of English-language series.

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“We’ll be working very closely off of the format of the original series,” explained Univision Networks president Cesar Conde during a conference call with reporters on Friday in advance of the company’s upfront presentation in New York on May 14.

But an announcement of a Spanish-language version of the AMC series Breaking Bad, which is produced by Sony, was apparently premature. Although Univision included the series - called Metastasis - in its upfront press release and talked about it with reporters, sources at Sony say there is no deal with Univision in place. The studio has had discussions with Univision and other media company's in Latin America about a Spanish-language version of Breaking Bad, but has yet to decide if they are moving forward with the adaptation. A representative for Univision was looking into the discrepancy at press time. 

Univision executives also took the opportunity to talk up their ratings growth in comparison to declines at ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Univision, which commands 60 percent of the U.S. Hispanic audience, finished February as the No. 4 network among adults 18-49, beating out NBC, which saw a precipitous ratings decline without Sunday Night Football and The Voice

“Advertisers can no longer ignore the fact that viewing of the four English-language networks is eroding – down 11 percent season-to-date – whereas Univision’s audience is up and is being fueled by the most significant population trend in the country,” said Conde.

Nevertheless, it has been an uphill climb to get media buyers to put portions of their budgets into Univision commensurate with its ratings and the media spending gap between Hispanic and English networks remains significant.

“It’s a constant struggle, one that we deal with on a regular basis,” admitted Univision Communications president and CEO Randy Falco.

But Falco pointed to the 2012 presidential election as an object lesson in the perils of underestimating the importance of the Hispanic population.

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“The last election is a cautionary tale,” he said. Indeed, polls showed that GOP candidate Mitt Romney alienated Hispanic voters with his “self deport” rhetoric during the Republican primaries. “It may have cost one of the candidates the election, frankly," continued Falco. "Advertisers are starting to see that as well. Our revenue increases in the first quarter were very substantial. Ad dollars will have to move over. When you’re looking at ratings going down 11 percent at the so-called Big Four, it seems to be a very easy math problem to solve.”

The slate of upcoming programs for Univision also includes the telenovela La Tempestad (The Storm) starring William Levy and former Miss Universe Ximena Navarrete; Durmiendo con mi Jefe” (Sleeping with my Boss), an update of the The Odd Couple with a Mexican Twist; and Va Por Ti, an obligatory singing competition show.