NBC Universal-owned Telemundo is going ahead with a 40-episode telenovela that will contain no TV commercials, just branded content. It grew out of an idea that Patricio Wills, president of Telemundo Studios, had been toying with that involved creating a novela with a music reality show as a backdrop.
"Patricio Wills talked about his dream of producing a novela with the rhythm of real life. You're never walking down the street and break for a commercial," said Steve Mandala, senior VP-sales and marketing and distribution, Telemundo and NBC Universal Networks.
The show, called "Idolos de Juventud" ("Youth Idols"), will be about a popular music producer who has launched the careers of Mexico's greatest singers and married one of them. As his wife's career fades, he oversees the reality-show contest to find the new superstar. As this is a novela, two of the most promising contestants fall in love, and the wife tries to break them up.
In lieu of commercials in "Idolos," Telemundo is trying to draw marketers into product integration, mobile marketing, and the websites of both Telemundo and its cable channel, Mun2. "We're talking to advertisers right now," Mr. Mandala said. "Ideally we're looking for six to seven."
Prime categories should be autos, fashion retailers, soft drinks, fast-food restaurants, wireless and other consumer-electronics products, although pricing a show with no ad breaks is tricky. "Advertisers see real value, but they don't have a model to price it," he said.
At Spanish-language network Univision, digital division Univision Online is developing a web-only novela as a co-production with Unilever. The novela, which has just been shot and will make its debut in July, features the company's Caress body-care brand and follows extensive research by Unilever about how to target young Latinas, who are more likely to be online than older Hispanic women.
To help advertisers get more out of traditional commercials, Telemundo is starting "power pods" this fall, cutting the first commercial break in each prime-time hour to just 60 seconds from about 2 minutes and 45 seconds. An average hour has about 12 minutes of commercials.
"We thought it was a good idea but not brain surgery," Mr. Mandala said. "The response from advertisers has been overwhelming."
Telemundo is also working with NBC-owned Bravo on that channel's first Hispanic initiative. In an episode of Bravo's Wednesday-night culinary series "Top Chef 3 Miami," contestants will prepare a meal for a group of Telemundo stars at the Miami mansion where current Telemundo novela "Dame Chocolate" ("Give Me Chocolate") has been filmed.
Telemudo also is taking advantage of a bilingual contestant from an earlier "Top Chef" series, Cuban-American chef Carlos Fernandez, who will host a weekly cooking segment on Telemundo's morning show, "Cada Dia." Mr. Fernandez will do a weekly online cooking series on YahooTelemundo.com that will link to BravoTV.com, and he will blog about "Top Chef Miami 3" in Spanish and English on both sites.
Mr. Mandala said the final upfront numbers won't be in for two months, but there are signs of higher spending. "The market will have good growth, will outstrip the general market, but not hit double digits," Mr. Mandala said. "Seven percent feels right."