2013 TV upfronts: Univision showcases El Rey, 'Gossip Girl Acapulco'

NEW YORK -- Univision intends to remain the king.

The nation's largest Spanish-language media company, Univision Communications, on Tuesday said it has made a financial investment in the planned El Rey cable channel owned by Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez and FactoryMade Ventures. El Rey, which means "the king" in Spanish, is expected to launch in December and target male Latinos under 35 with English-language programming.


El Rey becomes the second planned English-language network to capture Univision investment. Though the company declined to provide details about its stake in El Rey, Univision a year ago entered into a 50/50 partnership for a planned 24-hour news channel called Fusion with ABC News. Fusion is supposed to launch late this year.

Univision introduced Rodriguez, director of the cult film "El Mariachi" and the successful "Spy Kids" franchise, on Tuesday during the company's star-studded upfront presentation to advertisers at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York. El Rey intends to offer edgy, fast-paced entertainment including a show based on the horror franchise "From Dusk Till Dawn," Rodriguez's collaboration with director Quentin Tarantino.

"The El Rey network is going to be the home for kick-ass entertainment," Rodriguez told advertisers.

Amid a broadcast TV landscape dominated by shrinking and graying network audiences, the networks of Univision have something to boast about: They are growing and have a median age of under 40.

The main Univision network, the nation's fifth-largest, has averaged 3.7 million viewers in prime time during the current TV season, up slightly from its average of 3.6 million viewers during the 2011-12 season, according to ratings firm Nielsen.

The privately held company is attempting to ride the nation's growing wave of Latino influence to capture a bigger slice of marketers' advertising dollars. Year after year, Univision has struggled to persuade advertisers that the Spanish-language audiences were as valuable as more acculturated English-speaking Latinos.

By diversifying into English-language channels, Univision is trying to hedge its bet. The shift comes during a demographic shift as Latinos born in the U.S. are outnumbering new immigrants arriving from south of the border.

"Our country is changing, in fact it has already changed," Steve Mandala, Univision's executive vice president of advertising sales, told the crowd. "We are the power behind the opening weekend of many movies ... and if you are trying to sell autos you cannot succeed without the Hispanic audience."

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are kicking off the upfront sales auction by asking advertisers to pay higher rates for their time -- despite substantial audience erosion. The demand was not lost on Mandala who noted: "Univision is the only network where you pay for more, not for less."

Univision gave advertisers a glimpse of new programming, including its plans to adapt English-language popular series "Breaking Bad" and "Gossip Girl" for its UniMas network. "Metastasis," is an adaptation of the hit AMC drama about a high school teacher who becomes a meth dealer, and "Gossip Girl Acapulco," looks at the lives of Acapulco's elite based on the CW series. "Gossip Girl Acapulco" is scheduled to air concurrently in Mexico and the United States.

Univision also announced that the awards show "TVyNovelas" will be broadcast live simultaneously in Mexico and the U.S., a nod to the increasing number of viewers who are connected digitally and discuss show plots on social media.


Network upfront presentations are known for prerecorded clips and stage-roaming programming executives, but Univision injected some personality into the mix on Tuesday.

The network's sales team, taking a cue from "Men In Black," crashed the stage wearing black outfits and sunglasses, before joining Mandala in a flash mob-style performance, equipped with pom-poms and parasols, proclaiming its advertisers will become "Univisionistas" by the end of the presentation. Mandala, on behalf of his family and pets, then begged the audience to delete any recording of him wiggling around on stage.

All this, as the billionaire Univision Chairman Haim Saban sat in the audience looking slightly amused.

Univision also showed advertisers a spoof on a popular AT&T commercials that feature kids saying the darndest things. In the Univision bit, the company's chief executive, Randy Falco, sat around a tiny table with four children asking what they would think if a doughnut shop only gave them half a doughnut when they paid for the whole thing:

"They're mean!" shouted one of the children, a not so subtle dig at the big broadcast networks.

Univision drew a larger audience than NBC, Falco's longtime home, during the February sweeps ratings period. Univision accented that fact with a graphic showing a big broom sweeping up some dust.