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Univision Sets 'Webnovela'

Univision Communications and programming partner and supplier Televisa may have settled their differences over royalty payments, but Univision has wasted no time in securing non-Televisa content for several of its media properties.

The latest is an unprecedented partnership with giant TV content producer Endemol and Amistad Productions to produce Vidas Cruzadas (Crossed Lives), an online telenovela (or Webnovela) scheduled to premiere in the second quarter on Univision.com.

Univision Online, which earlier this year was renamed Univision Interactive Media, is now under the helm of former AOL vice president Kevin Conroy, who took over the division Jan. 12.

The 15-episode Webnovela, still in pre-production, marks Univision's second incursion in the genre. (The first was the 2007 Mi adorada Malena, featuring Puerto Rican model Cynthia Olavarría, which was developed with Unilever.)

But Vidas is Univision's first ever collaboration with Endemol USA (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Deal or No Deal, Big Brother), which has been making strides in the scripted genre.

Vidas Cruzadas, featuring popular soap opera stars Kate del Castillo and Guy Ecker, concerns the controversial subject of artificial insemination. The storyline follows a professional single woman (portrayed by Del Castillo) who is simply too busy to find the perfect man with whom to conceive a child, so she opts for alternative methods. The series will give users additional information on the subject, long considered taboo among U.S. Hispanics. The script was written by Ecker's wife, Estela Sainz.

Ecker, Sainz and Del Castillo are partners in Amistad, a company founded two years ago by award-winning telenovela producer Carlos Sotomayor to create, develop and produce original content for digital platforms, as well as for TV and film. Each episode of Vidas Cruzadas will last between three to five minutes and will be available to Univision.com users for free.

“This is great talent, great content and a great new way of reaching the U.S. Hispanic audiences,” Endemol USA Latino senior vice president Laurens Drillich said. None of the partners disclosed financial figures for the Webnovela, but all involved said it will be developed with extensive product-placement and organic integration options.

According to Univision, Vidas Cruzadas will be supported with a dedicated microsite featuring behind-the-scenes videos and photos and interactive features such as blogs, live chats and forums. Other interactive features include a sweepstakes in which users will be able to act out a scene and upload their video for a chance to win a cameo appearance in the Webnovela. The microsite will also include trivia, polls, local tie-ins and exclusive cast interviews.

In 2007, Mi adorada Malena's six weekly episodes generated high user participation and heavy traffic to Univision.com. Univision also adapted it into a one-hour special in December.

A Univision spokeswoman says the company has not yet signed a specific advertiser for Vidas Cruzadas.