With the Spanish-language television space heating up, industry leader Univision Communications Inc. is making an aggressive move to solidify its dominance.
On Monday, the media company plans to rename its secondary broadcast network UniMas, which translates loosely as Univision Plus, underlining its ties to its hugely popular sister network Univision.
The company also is locking up rights to programs from key Latin American producers to buffet gains from the flood of competitors charging the field. Univision plans to use programs from Colombia and Mexico, along with a heavy dose of sports, to stock UniMas, currently known as Telefutura, and appeal to young viewers, particularly Latino men under the age of 35.
"This is where a lot of the population growth is coming from," said Cesar Conde, president of Miami-based Univision Networks. "This is an opportunistic move for us — to offer alternative Spanish-language programming to our audience."
Telefutura was launched in 2002 as rear-flank protection just as NBC was acquiring longtime rival Telemundo. Univision decided that if its audience was going to be cannibalized, it might as well be cannibalized by another Univision service. The strategy paid off: NBC struggled for years to make gains against the Univision network, all the while having to spar with Telefutura.
But as News Corp., Time Warner Inc., Liberman Broadcasting and others increase their presence in Spanish-language TV, Univision is increasing its investment in the network, which previously devoted much of its prime-time schedule to rebroadcasts of Hollywood movies. The company in recent months has structured deals with prominent Colombian producers Caracol Television and RTI Productions, which have long been aligned with NBCUniversal's Telemundo.
"We are also beefing up the sporting events that we offer, including Mexican soccer," Conde said. The network will feature run-up games to the 2014 World Cup and will broadcast boxing matches. Its serial dramas are designed to be grittier than the romantic telenovelas from Mexico's Grupo Televisa, which long produced gargantuan ratings, particularly among women, for Univision.
A crime drama, "Made in Cartagena," comes from Caracol. A boxing-themed drama, "Cloroformo," will be produced by Televisa, which has an ownership interest in Univision.
"It feels like now the network stands for something," said Lia Silkworth, a senior vice president at the Tapestry advertising agency, a division of Starcom MediaVest. "They are clearly trying to go after the young bicultural and bilingual Hispanic audience like other media companies are doing — but in Spanish."
During the first nine months of 2012, advertising spending for Spanish-language television was up nearly 19% compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Kantar Media.
Telemundo will maintain its 40% ownership interest in RTI, which was formed in part to help Telemundo to compete against Univision. Caracol's exclusive pact with Telemundo ended in December, but Telemundo said it would continue to work with Caracol on certain projects.
During the fall TV season, Telefutura drew an average 730,000 viewers in prime time. In contrast, the flagship Univision network attracted nearly 3.7 million in prime time, according to Nielsen ratings data. Second-place Telemundo, owned by NBCUniversal, delivered about 1.25 million viewers in prime time.