Diane Kniowski, chief local media officer at Univision Communications, is Broadcasting+Cable’s Broadcaster of the Year for her stellar efforts to enhance the unique bond between viewers and their local Univision stations, both television and radio. An extensive research initiative at Univision shed light on what viewers in the group’s top 10 markets want in terms of local content and how they wish to consume it. That, coupled with creating what Kniowski called “unique brand identities” for each market, has elevated the stations’ profiles.
Since Kniowski came to Univision late in 2018, ratings growth has been substantial. WXTV New York, for one, has seen a 57% elevation in late news from November 2018 to November 2021 in viewers 18-49, and a 25% boost in total-day ratings. WLTV Miami, another key market, is up 100% in late news and 33% in total day.
Kniowski, previously a regional manager at Nexstar Media Group, spoke with B+C/Multichannel News about what has worked for Univision’s local media group in 2021, and how the stations covered the most critical stories. An edited transcript follows.
B+C: What have been some highlights for the group this year?
Diane Kniowski: The work we’ve been doing for two years came to fruition. We’re in the content business. We build content and distribute it on multiple platforms. In our local markets, it’s the one thing that connects us. I like to say that we’re where our brand meets the face of the customer on the street.
Local TV Awards: Celebrating 2021’s Station Standouts
Station Group of the Year: E.W. Scripps
GM of the Year, Markets 1-25: Chad Matthews, WABC New York
GM of the Year, Markets 21-50: Collin Gaston, WBRC Birmingham, Alabama
GM of the Year, Markets 51-Plus: Bruce Cummings, KIII Corpus Christi, Texas
Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year: NBCUniversal Local
News Director of the Year: Allison McGinley, WKMG Orlando
Local TV Anchor of the Year: Robert Hadlock, KXAN Austin
Meteorologist of the Year: Tom Messner, WPTZ Burlington
We had some great things come together. We did research in our top 10 markets and took a look at, what did the viewer and the listener want to know in those markets? What style, what platform?
When we got that information back, we added to it by creating unique brand identities in each of those markets. The New York Hispanic audience is mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican. The Miami Hispanic community is mostly Cuban and Venezuelan. The L.A. Hispanic community is mostly Mexican. Those are diversities inside diversity. We needed to speak in culture and in language.
Those opportunities that we put together with those brand identities started working. In early news and late news in our top 10 markets, we became No. 1 and No. 2 consistently. We actually beat, in some of our markets, English-language [stations]. That was really, really exciting for us.
B+C: What exactly did you learn from the research?
DK: That we couldn’t give our viewers and listeners what they could already get somewhere else. That we had to be hyper-local. These viewers depend on us in a much stronger relationship than probably an English-language company, because there’s not as many choices. It was really important that we spoke to them on their terms.
Prior to that, we were just doing whatever we thought as opposed to what they needed and wanted. When you try to be all things to all people, you’re vanilla. Once we started responding to what they told us, they started engaging in a much bigger way.
B+C: Give me one market where you saw one of your stations really leapfrog in terms of news.
DK: Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and L.A.
B+C: How have the stations addressed COVID in ways that the competition
DK: We have a mission above everything else to our community. There was a huge amount of government spending to speak to markets that had huge, diverse populations, but we personally involved our own stories with it and how we were handling it. We made sure that at any event we had, we offered screenings, free shots. Our big events, we offer free masks, we offer screenings, we offer vaccinations. We just had a big radio event under our Uforia brand in Dallas. We provided 300 free shots for the community. We’re constantly talking to them about keeping themselves and their families safe.
We had phone banks. We would tell you either what you needed to know or where you needed to go. We also had a situation in Houston where the schools were [remote] and [much of] the Hispanic population did not have access to laptops. They had cellphones, but not necessarily enough computers. We used one of our subchannels for educational purposes.
Wherever we got the call, we looked for a way to solve it because we have an obligation to that community. They rely on us to give them honest information.
B+C: How has COVID affected the way the stations go about their day to day?
DK: We are a broadcaster with a radio division. When you think about radio, you’re in cars, you’re at events. There was a real cutback on events, but what we found is we could still do really good business on computer screens. We provided a speaker series about how to keep your business going through these hard times, how to make your brand stand out.
Our radio division could no longer do concerts. We couldn’t have mass crowds. They created a series called Uforia Hangout Sessions. Instead of having these concerts, they took these incredible singers and songwriters and had private interviews with them. It went over really well. We’re going to keep it going because their fans loved it.
COVID forced us to reinvent ourselves in different ways, just like every company in the world. But what we found was we could still be delivering content. We never stopped being on the air.
B+C: How is the Univision group setting itself up for success down the road?
DK: I’ve been at the company three years. After the first year, what I realized when I was evaluating our content was that we didn’t have enough digital content builders. We had to solve a problem. We reached out and took a look at where the strong bilingual communication majors are. Right there in our own backyard, in Miami, is Florida International University. Our general manager of our Miami station, Claudia Puig, happened to be on the board. We set up a meeting with Florida International University and created a program called STEP, Student Training Employment Program. We went after seniors and grad students in their last semester that were bilingual, that were communications or journalism majors. Then we let the school pick 20 students per semester in a three-semester program, so over the course of a year it’s 60 students. We brought those 20 students in and created a destination location in one of our facilities.
Right in the middle of the first semester we had to have them all at home, but it still worked. Everyone got a laptop. They got a camera light kit, a mini tripod, for their iPhone.
We tied the curriculum with the school to what our needs were, so that we could have the students doing digital content for us, creating new video stories, expanding on existing stories, writing for our websites, writing for our apps, taking news stories and breaking them down into social snackables.
We were able to amp up in the digital content, and we created a gateway for hiring new talent. It’s a win-win all the way around because not only did we hire some of them, some of them have gone to Telemundo. We are basically building the content drivers and providers for the future that are bilingual. It’s worked very, very well.
B+C: Tell me about the group’s acquisitions.
DK: It’s happening at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31. We had a JSA [joint sales agreement] where we owned Tampa, Orlando and Washington, D.C., but we had a contract with Entravision for them to manage those markets and pay us a little bit of the fee. That contract expires Dec. 31, so we are in the process of acquiring three stations. Orlando and Tampa, along with our Miami station, are going to give us a really big footprint, especially for political, in Florida. Washington, D.C., is a great opportunity to put our best foot forward for all the politicians that want to have an understanding of who we are, how we tell our stories and what we represent. It’s a lot, but we’re very excited about it.
B+C: What drew you to Univision three years ago?
DK: Vince Sadusky was the CEO at the time. I worked for him at LIN and then at Media General. I worked for Vince for almost 15 years. We built an entire division for digital at the time. We built brands and we built community outlets. All the things that I had done, Vince basically said, “I want you to come here and take a look at doing the same thing for Univision.”
When I looked into Univision, I was surprised that in all the major markets that I had ever worked in, we had never considered them a competitive player. I met a number of the department heads and what I found was an incredibly passionate group of people that believed in their mission. I hadn’t seen that in a company in a while, and so, I was in.
B+C What else are you proud of in terms of Univision in 2021?
DK: I’m really proud of our community program that we’re extending. With such a reliance of the community on us for communication, for audio and digital and television, we have a program we rolled into one called Contigo, which means With You. Our message is, we are going to respond to what’s happening in your community in the news with something that is a solution, so that we are sought after and we are recognized and that trust gets built. We see what’s happening, we’re there for you.
The Christmas season, we always see a lot of home fires. We’re going to be prepared this season. We’ll be out in the community handing out smoke detectors.
The Hispanic population, and some of the African-American population, is not taught as much about water safety. In every one of our markets, there are tons of swimming pools, or we’re near oceans and the Gulf. The number of drownings is ridiculous. This year, we started a program that we’ll repeat every summer. We call it the Safe Water Campaign. It was a really active campaign to not just teach them about water dangers, but also to provide opportunities to find businesses that sponsor free swim lessons. We also handed out 16,000 lanyards. They had a whistle. The front said, ‘I’m watching the kids now.’ On the back it had, in English and Spanish, the five things you need to really be paying attention to before you let anybody go in the water.
B+C: What are you watching for fun these days?
DK: I’m watching a lot of Fixer Upper and real-estate shows. I watch our Latin Grammys. My favorite show on our air is The Rose of Guadalupe. It’s about a woman and it’s about hope. It’s perfect for me. It’s absolutely perfect. ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.