For pleasing its Latino base—and threatening the TV establishment
Like the steamy telenovelas it airs each night, Univision is sizzling. The Spanish-language network is gaining on the Big Four (CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox). It was No. 1 in viewers ages 18 to 49 for a week last September,and upped its audience 13% in the fourth quarter. Cesar Conde, 37, Univision Networks' wunderkind president, explains his distinctive strategy.
What has driven Univision's rise in the past year?
We had the highest-viewed novela ever in the history of our company [Soy Tu Dueña]. We had the most-viewed reality show [Mira Quién Baila] ever produced by us here in the U.S. We launched a production arm, Univision Studios. And in 2008, we set an ambitious goal: be the No. 1 U.S. network, regardless of language, in five years.
That's bold. How could you possibly pull that off?
We will continue totap exclusive content partnerships in Latin America. And we will produce customized programming for Latinos in the United States. We'll split the huge audience base with the English-language networks. In media there's something called unduplicated audience — the percentage of one's audience that only watches one particular network. The English-language networks with the most loyal fans, like ESPN? At best their unduplicated audience percentage is in the low teens. We have about a 70% unduplicated audience in prime time.
You've said Latinos are unique when it comes to new media. Why?
First, the demographic that most over-indexes on the usage of mobile devices in this country is young Hispanic males, period. Second, Latinos have adopted social media at a faster rate than the rest of the population. Those two things are very good for us because the young Hispanic demo is a huge part of our audience.
Your World Cup coverage on TV, online, and mobile platforms was highly successful. Did that provide a model?
Univision was the only U.S. company that made World Cup programming free across all platforms at all times. This was very risky — not a lot of people agreed with this. But by opening up the new platforms, we got incremental audience that would not necessarily have been watching on TV.
What do you have in the works for this year?
We are experimenting with our "reverse incubation model." Instead of doing a pilot on TV and then, if it succeeds, taking it to interactive platforms, we test ideas on interactive platforms — and if they work, in some cases we bring them to the big screen.
Can you give an example?
Our second web novela, Vidas Cruzadas, was 15 three- or five-minute episodes online. You could view them on a handheld on the way to work. It worked great on the interactive platform, and we collected the webisodes into an hour-long special for TV. It's more cost efficient to experiment with short web videos. I'm hoping we've stumbled onto something.