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Spanish-Language Expansion

An unfortunately timed contractual spat with Univision’s content provider Grupo Televisa loomed over the Hispanic upfronts, with the market giant swearing the fight would not affect its new programming. Meanwhile, scrappy rival Telemundo used Univision’s problems to tout its strategy: relying on homegrown shows.

Univision, which last year took in 70% of the upfront’s overall $1.1 billion, hopes to keep its stronghold on the Hispanic market this year, pushing its exclusive Spanish-language broadcast of the 2006 World Cup, the Latin Grammy Awards, five new novelas and new, in-house-produced late-night and weekend shows. More than 80% of its prime time content still comes from Mexico’s Televisa, under a 1992 sales agreement through 2017, but Televisa this month sued for $1.5 million in back royalties, and its chair Emilio Azcárraga Jean resigned from the Univision board.

Univision, which says it overpaid Televisa $5.2 million in royalties, said the scuffle would not it impact its programming—all five new novelas for next season come from Televisa.

“When you make an agreement that lasts 25 years, the lawyers structure it in a way that takes a catastrophic event to break—and that will never happen,” said Ray Rodriguez, Univision’s recently appointed president and COO.

But the network faces competition from NBC Universal-owned Telemundo, which pitched its mostly original slate under the tagline “hecho para ti”—“made for you.”

Telemundo unveiled four new young-skewing novelas for prime and its first-ever hour-long dramas in addition to new reality, sports and news shows.

But the network has lost ground recently, reporting a 17% share of Spanish-language viewers 18-49, compared with some 25% in first quarter 2004. But executives stress a slow and steady growth.

Telemundo upped its investment in novelas alone to some $55 million last year and has been recruiting producers, writers and talent for the past 20 months, says new President Don Browne, but he adds, “It’s not like flipping a light switch. Watching Univision is a very ingrained habit, established over years, and it takes a while for viewers to break that habit.”

Some ad buyers liked what they saw. “I was very impressed,” said Lisa Contreras-Torres, VP/multicultural director, Carat USA. “They have plenty in their slate that could challenge Univision, and people might give it more share on faith.”

Hispanics account for more than 13% of the U.S. population and are expected to grow 2%-3% each year through 2010. Upfront spending on Spanish-language network TV is expected to grow to $1.23 billion this year, according to Merrill Lynch estimates—nearly 8% of the approximately $15.5 billion in revenues English-language broadcast networks generate.

“Those who are spending are spending more, and those who haven’t allocated money are doing so,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research for Horzion Media.

For all its contractual woes, Univision is clearly still dominant. The network says its 18-49 viewership grew 25% this year to an average 2.2 million in prime and it beat the Big Four in 18-34 ratings on 146 out of the 231 nights so far this season. “They’re not broken, so there isn’t a lot of tweaking Univision needs to do,” Contreras says. It expects 50% more viewers for the World Cup this year, up from 35 million for the last tournament four years ago. It will air more than 300 hours of coverage including highlights, news and live broadcasts of all 64 matches of the June event. Live, hour-long show ¡Ay Que Noche! is slated for Monday through Friday at midnight, and news show Punto de Encuentro con Jorge Ramos for Sundays at 10 a.m.—giving advertisers two new platforms for brand integration they do not get on the foreign-produced novelas.