Univision Adds Muscle to Its Original Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cinching enormous programming deals with two leading television production companies and networks in South America, Univision Communications Inc. added 1,100 hours of exclusive programming to its library each year for the next five years.

The two deals, announced Monday, enable this country's largest Spanish-language television network to lessen its dependence on Televisa, Mexico's mammoth television network and telenovela producer. Univision has an exclusive deal with Televisa through 2017, but last month when Univision executives said they would launch a second network in January aimed at bilingual men, it seemed inevitable that the corporation would diversify its programming sources.

According to Mario Rodriguez, president of Univision Entertainment, it was simply a matter of volume.

"We use up most of Televisa's first-run programming on Univision and Galavision," he said, referring to Univision's primary network and cable channel.

But the new pacts also enable Univision to reach out to the non-Mexican portion of its vast audience, one-third of which traces its roots to South America and the Caribbean.

"We felt we wanted to program to them as well," Rodriguez said. Univision's agreements with RCTV, Venezuela's top programming producer, and RCN Television, Colombia's top-rated television network and telenovela producer, were in the works late last year, Rodriguez said. He said negotiations were helped along by news about Univision's new, still unnamed network. In fact, the new deals with RCTV and RCN "fill the telenovela needs" for the new network, according to a Univision spokeswoman.

With RCTV, Univision entered into a 10-year deal for at least 800 hours per year of original, first-run telenovelas as well as rights to other programming such as game shows, variety entertainment and comedies.

With RCN Television, Univision has exclusive rights to at least 300 hours of new telenovelas each year for the next five years. A highlight of the RCN Television deal centered around a homely economist who became a well-loved heroine to millions of viewers worldwide.

The unlikely character, Betty, was the protagonist of RCN's "Yo Soy Betty la Fea" ("I Am Betty the Ugly"). While the telenovela aired in 35 countries, including the United States, Univision enjoyed none of the show's popularity, because it aired in the United States on Univision's smaller competitor, Telemundo. Under the new deal with RCN, viewers of Spanish-language television in the United States will have to tune in to Univision to see the sequel to "Betty la Fea."

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