NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As marketers and their U.S. Hispanic ad agencies seek more online opportunities, Univision Communications is finally rushing to address the shortage of Spanish-language video.
"There's a huge need for more relevant content," said Marla Skiko, senior VP-director of digital innovation at Publicis Groupe's SMG Multicultural.
Univision is planning to put more of its own TV shows online, hear pitches from outside content producers and add search-engine index Truveo to its website to help users find more Spanish-language video.
"Advertisers have expressed a clear interest in wanting to be more involved in video," said Kevin Conroy, who joined Univision from AOL as president of the revamped Univision Interactive Media division in January 2009. "They don't want their brand messages associated with user-generated content, but professionally produced content."
Univision's best source of Spanish-language video would be the popular novelas and other shows created by its main program supplier, Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa. But Univision has been stymied by a long legal battle with Televisa over who holds the U.S. digital rights to the Televisa shows that Univision airs in the U.S. A U.S. judge ruled in July that Televisa doesn't hold the rights but stopped short of granting them to Univision, leaving digital use of some of the highest-rated Spanish-language programming in limbo for now.
"We'd very much like to be able to offer Televisa's content as video," Mr. Conroy said. "We're not in a position to do it quite yet."
The appeal of Televisa video is clear in the numbers tracked by TubeMogul, an online-video-analytics company, which ranks Univision as the most-pirated network on YouTube, thanks to heavy downloads of Televisa's novelas. Until now, Univision hasn't had much incentive to issue take-down notices, as other networks do, to keep pirated videos off YouTube. But that's changing.
"The best way is to offer the audience something compelling that is legitimate at the same time is applying our rights as copyright owner," Mr. Conroy said. "It's not just about policing what's there."
In the meantime, Univision is producing its own web-only novela, called "Vidas Cruzadas" ("Crossed Lives"), with sponsorship and in-show integration from McDonald's, State Farm and L'Oreal. The 15-episode show features Kate del Castillo as a woman who tires of waiting to meet the right man and decides to have a child on her own. For the first time, Univision, which insists even its ads be in Spanish, is offering an English-subtitles option.
Each of the three episodes a week starts with a sponsor's pre-roll ad, such as a L'Oréal spot starring Ms. del Castillo, who is also the company's new face. The first episode opens with a pack shot of a L'Oreal hair-coloring product, which Ms. Castillo and her mom have just used and are raving about. Much of the second episode is set at a child-filled McDonald's, to convey how much her character longs for a child and to provide plenty of shots of the McCafe coffee she orders.
Ms. Skiko said the Univision web drama was a little pricey, but she's looking forward to seeing more proposals. "Sometimes it's easier to have a bunch of smaller opportunities with a smaller price tag."
So far, the No. 2 Spanish-language network, NBC Universal-owned Telemundo, has done the most with Spanish-language video. Telemundo controls more of its own production, so it can create its own online-video and mobile versions of its TV shows, as well as web-only programming.