Look Who's Talking

The notoriously press-wary Univision Networks is becoming decidedly more loose-lipped during the ongoing Spanish-language upfront, when advertisers are expected to spend $930 million for commercial time on its three networks, which also include TeleFutura and Galavision.

“We have an exceptional story to tell, and we want everyone to hear it,” says Tom McGarrity, co-president of network sales at Univision Networks. “We've stepped up our efforts to make sure our national advertisers, both current and prospective, fully recognize the opportunity that only the Univision networks provide.”

For journalists, covering Univision is often frustrating because, from the corporate suites down to the station level, the network's executives usually won't discuss even mundane matters. Partly behind Univision's new stance is increasing press coverage for competitors such as NBC Universal's Telemundo, the small-but-growing Azteca America, and dozens of cable networks like Fox Sports en Español, Discovery en Español and the English-language Si TV. All are vying for a bigger piece of the $1.2 billion that advertisers are projected to spend during the upfront.

But another explanation for Univision's newfound chattiness—and its ongoing ad campaign—is that its ratings this year and in the recently concluded broadcast season are a tad too good to leave unnoticed.

Univision's prime time audience in the 18-49 demographic this past season grew 22% over the prior season, to an average 2.02 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Univision ranked No. 5 for the season among all networks, outpacing The WB and UPN.

“Phenomenal Numbers”

Much of Univision's ratings growth stems from two prime time telenovelas, Rubi and Amor Real, which pulled record audiences earlier this year. Most telenovelas air without repeats every weeknight for about 20 weeks. The telenovelas that have replaced Rubi and AmorApuesta Por Un Amor and La Madrastra—are also generating big ratings.

Apuesta has lifted Univision's 18-49 audience 33% from last year in the 8 p.m. time slot, while La Madrastra has increased the 9 p.m. audience by 41%.

Univision also got a boost from specials like Selena Vive, a concert celebrating the life of the Tejano singer on the 10th anniversary of her murder. The special, which aired in April, pulled a 35.9 rating among Hispanic households, becoming Univision's highest-rated special ever.

“What really drives their reach is their prime time, where they had hit novelas like Rubi, which did some of the most phenomenal numbers of any novela ever on the air,” says Marla Skiko, media director at Tapestry, the multicultural division of Starcom MediaVest Group.

“They were able to follow that up with novelas that are continuing to do well. And they're doing this in a year where they have the World Cup [soccer tournament], so more viewers will probably tune in because they'll do a lot of promotion on the World Cup and the programming surrounding it.”

Univision's airing of the last World Cup in 2002 attracted some 35 million viewers. The network is also rolling out other high-profile programs, including its first broadcast of the Latin Grammy Awards.

Univision-owned TeleFutura's 18-49 audience was flat at 389,000. But Univision estimates the young-skewing network's 18-34 audience was up 5%, to 256,000.

“There have been specific nights when TeleFutura has surpassed [Telemundo] on a total-day basis and on a daypart basis,” says David Wolfson, senior VP of network research at Univision Networks. “It's on a track that is very positive, meaning we don't see that it's going to stop.”

Telemundo Declines

Univision's main competitor, Telemundo, posted a 9% decline among 18-49s during the broadcast season. However, it ranked a solid No. 2, with an average of 529,000 viewers.

Tapestry's Skiko says Univision's performance this year is beneficial to advertisers because it forces the network's competitors to step up their game.

“This is great because, obviously, we have a strong reach vehicle [in Univision],” she says. “There is limited competition, but it makes Telemundo work harder to maintain their share.”