Univision Expects Strong Volume Increases in TV’s Upfront Market (EXCLUSIVE)

Univision Expects Strong Volume Increases in TV’s Upfront Market (EXCLUSIVE)

Madison Avenue has a lot to say about the current state of the TV industry — and more of it will need to be spoken in Spanish.

Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster that is operating under new ownership, has secured double-digit percentage increases in advance advertising commitments for its next programming cycle, the latest traditional broadcaster to benefit from an unusually speedy “upfront” market, when TV companies try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory.  While many English-language broadcasters are seen eking out single-digit percentage increases in ad volume for their primetime linear schedules, Univision expects double-digit hikes in both its broadcast and cable inventory, according to a person familiar with the matter, as well as a new slate of ad dollars committed to Prende, its recently launched streaming-video service.

While tying ad commitments directly to revenue is difficult, Univision’s media networks generated $1.15 billion in advertising in 2020, compared with nearly $1.27 billion in 2019.  The company’s ad commitments are up over 2019 levels, according to the person familiar with discussions.  That year, Univision expected an increase of between 5% and 6% in advance volume. Last year, many TV networks experienced a slump in upfront sales as the coronavirus pandemic crippled ad spending.

Univision declined to comment.

Univision typically wraps its annual upfront talks in the weeks after its English-language counterparts, but this year’s negotiations are far from normal. Univision started dealing with media agencies and advertisers concurrent with English-language networks, the person familiar with the talks said, not after they were finished. Indeed, ViacomCBS and Discovery are still believed to be in the midst of their sales process after holding to high pricing demands.

Many of the media’s biggest TV companies are pushing some portion of ad dollars to new streaming venues, realizing that a move of consumers from linear TV viewing to on-demand consumption has reduced traditional TV viewership, likely in irrevocable fashion. With that in mind, many big advertisers are looking to snap up traditional TV inventory wherever they can get it, including in Spanish-language programming or a new Saturday-night block launching on TV’s CW network in the fall.

The upfront process bodes well for the company in its first year of new management. The Spanish-language broadcaster was purchased at the end of last year by Searchlight Capital Partners, a global private investment firm, and  ForgeLight LLC, an investment company focused on the media sector led by Wade Davis (above, pictured), a former chief financial officer at Viacom who is now Univision’s CEO.  He hired Donna Speciale, a Madison Avenue veteran who was previously head of ad sales at WarnerMedia, to lead advertising outreach at Univision. In April, Univision acquired the media and content assets of Mexico’s Grupo Televisa.

Executives attribute the rapid sales session not only to the new challenges advertisers have in finding inventory on English-language broadcast, but also to a growing interest in reaching multicultural audiences. Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands and WPP’s GroupM are among the entities that have unveiled efforts to invest more media dollars in outlets owned by minority executives or that aim for people from a broader array of backgrounds.

With advertiser demand rebounding after the pandemic, and audiences scattering to new video venues, TV companies have been able to command significant rate increases for ad time.  Cable networks have sought increases of 9% to 12% in the rate of reaching 1,000 viewers, a measure known as a CPM that is integral to the industry’s annual “upfront” talks, while broadcast networks have pressed for increases of between 16% and the low-20% range. Univision was able to command CPM increases in line with the rest of the industry, this person said.

The company went into the market determined to retain spending from current clients according to the person familiar with negotiations. Amid the rush to get commitments down, however, Univision was also able to lure new spending from categories it has long hoped to increase, including technology and pharmaceutical. The person said Univision was able to double the commitments it typically gets from the pharmaceutical sector, while also doing solid business with telecommunications marketers, retailers, and movie studios — three categories that are more regular customers of the company.

Executives believe the company will continue to pick up volume in months to come, citing sales trends they have seen in the first and second quarters. Nevertheless, Univision is selling programming that more advertisers say they want: a new spate of “telenovelas,” along with new concepts in live news and sports. Among the programming pitched to clients was “TUDN Mega-Fest,” which combines soccer events with an all star music concert,  and “UniVisionarios,” a look at Hispanic visionaries and game changers that culminates in a televised gala.

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