Univision’s Local Vision

Peter Walker took over as president of Univision Local Media last July, with oversight of the Spanish-language broadcasting giant’s local TV and radio properties and their Websites. Walker had spent 17 years at Tribune, including a stint overseeing the bulk of the company’s stations. With the Univision stations now under his watch, Walker aims to capitalize on the gains the Hispanic community showed in the 2010 Census, and marshal the community’s clout in advance of the 2012 election season. Walker spoke with B&C Deputy Editor Michael Malone about his first—and next—year on the job.

How are the Univision stations operated now compared with a year ago? Are the TV and radio stations working closer together?

Yes, that’s been a big priority. I can’t speak so much as to how it was before, I can only tell you how I want it to be, and integration is a large part of it. By that I mean soft integration, meaning the top-line revenue, and initiatives we have under way to combine to an advertiser’s benefit [Univision’s] TV, radio and interactive. That’s been a major push. At Tribune years ago, we’d done that on more of a cross-platform, we-expect-people-tobuy- it sort of thing. Here we try to do it as more of a customer focus, where it’s actually meeting a need as opposed to just something we want to sell or force on people.

Part of why it works for us, and doesn’t necessarily work in [the] general market, is because of our share of voice overall, our brand and our importance in the community. Add those three things together, and when you’re looking at 12 markets in which we have TV and radio together, supported by online, we’re a significant enough share of voice that advertisers do want an integrated approach.

How important is local news to Univision, and what are you doing to increase its presence?

We launched three new [newscasts] this year: morning news in Houston and Dallas and late news in Atlanta. Local is extremely important. News is [one] of our most prominent local components, so we take it very seriously and look to continue to expand it. We’re pretty well-penetrated in early and late news across our group. Where we still have room for growth is morning news, and we intend to grow that in the years ahead. Right now we have morning news in eight markets, plus Puerto Rico. Los Angeles, New York and Miami have Univision news and TeleFutura news in the morning.

Any surprises you’re seeing regarding the Hispanic population as the Census data becomes available?

Sometimes it’s stronger than we thought, but it’s mostly consistent with what we thought. But it’s up to us to convert that in a positive way by capturing it. That will be a story to be told in the next couple years for sure. We want to grow the political awareness of Univision’s audience and its value to candidates and special interest groups. We’re doing what we can to make sure our audience is valued appropriately. In the past, political advertisers have undervalued or perhaps not spent at the level we thought they should to market to the Hispanic audience. We’d like to change that, and we intend to.

The Spanish-language networks had a big presence in the 2008 election season. How do you grow on that the next time around?

We intend to do more of it. Local was very involved in that effort. The [gubernatorial] debate in California between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman was actually driven by our general manager in Fresno. She pushed that along by meeting Brown and Whitman on many occasions and actually getting them to commit to the debate. All politics is local, and it’s no different here. Network [TV] obviously has a tremendous voice and the message that it conveys. But we on a local basis want to make sure we’re supporting the local races and informing our electorate.

We’ll do even more of that—more town halls, more outreach. We’re taking a more aggressive stance than we have. We’ve already begun our efforts—that cycle’s going to be here before we know it.

To us it’s not just a transactional thing. It’s about laying the groundwork well in advance of the election. That means forming relationships with all interested parties and seeing how we can meet each other’s needs. Candidates and groups representing certain points of view have an interest in reaching our audience, and we have an interest in helping them do that. And the sooner we get to know each other and fi gure out how best to do that, the better off we all are.

What message do you want marketers coming away from the Univision upfront presentation in New York with this month?

That's not as much a local message, other than the fact that we carry the network's voice into the markets. People do view us in local markets, they view the network through the lens of the affiliates. But it's more about the overall [Univision] message-continuing to serve in the best way the fastest growing demographic in the country. The way to do that of course is growing on all levels. That means paying attention not only to the network and its programming but to the local venues. We need to continue moving ahead on radio, making sure we're distributed on all platforms. The upfront is really all about programming and the orientation of the company overall. We're supportive of those initiatives for sure.

There's always a good musical surprise at the Univision upfront, whether it's Ricky Martin or Jennifer Lopez. Since it's just you and me talking, who's it gonna be this year?

[Laughs] Not only am I bound to secrecy, but they haven't told me either because I might actually tell somebody.

There's a lot of interest in terms of broadcasters' spectrum and the FCC. Would Univision be a seller of spectrum, or do you have plans for it?

All I can tell you about that is we have lots of plans being evaluated. We're looking at various scenarios, all the things you might expect. The most important thing is to make sure we use it in way that's appropriate and winds up servicing our community and is an intelligent use of spectrum.

Give me an update on Univision's digital strategy.

That's well underway. We launched 70 local online and mobile websites last year. That's being done by Kevin Conroy, my counterpart who runs the interactive division. We're cross-promoting them to push them out to communities so they know they're there; it's an all hands on deck initiatives. There's tremendous positive leverage in putting them online together with conventional media and we're excited about it.

Mobile is even newer than online, and that has tremendous potential. But there's a lot to be figured out. And there's a lot of parts of it that fit our audience in a unique way. We're earlier and more aggressive adaptors, but in other respects we may be a little behind the general market. When it comes to mobile, we're definitely ahead of the general market.

CEO Joe Uva stepped down recently from the company. What does that mean for you and Univision?

Joe is the one who hired me. I think a lot of Joe, and that's not changed by his decision to leave. He did a lot of very positive things, put a lot of important things in motion. None of those have dropped in the interim. That's been picked up and carried forward by Randy Falco, along with the things Randy wants to do. I think it's been a positive transition. I think Joe made a tremendous impact in the four years he was here and I do miss him. But the enterprise is in such a dynamic state right now. There's so many things we're getting right, but still things we need to do. So we're busy, let's put it that way.

How's your Spanish?

I'm getting there. Both of my brothers are fluent, but while they were learning Spanish, l learned how to play piano. [Laughs] That's the trade I made. I need to fix that.

What words come to mind when describing a Univision station?

It's several things. It starts with a huge responsibility. All broadcasters have that. I spent a long time in general audience [media]. I was mindful of it then, and I'm mindful of it now in terms of the responsibility to the community and responsibility to our viewers. But it's even more so here. There's an unusual degree of trust invested in us and our local stations by our viewers. There are many examples of people who call our TV stations and ask for help on general matters, not something specific regarding what they saw on the air.

Besides being responsible and informative and entertaining, I think it's important to show our viewers new things. It's not just about what's being done now, but what's being done going forward on multiple levels, regarding technology as well as product.

We have a pretty big footprint, where you'd expect it to be. As the Census rolls out, it opens up areas where we might want to expand.

Does that mean an acquisition?

It could be a regional [news] emphasis, it could be an acquisition, it could be a number of things. But let's put it this way: we want to be wherever America's Hispanics are, and make sure we're doing what we need to do when we're there.

Email comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

Michael Malone

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.