NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Once, Univision was the most pirated network on YouTube. Now, the leading U.S. Spanish-language broadcaster is going into business with YouTube, but that's where things get complicated.
Univision announced a deal with YouTube today that will put shows produced by the network on Google's behemoth video site. The deal includes programs such as the talk show "Cristina," Univision's Latin Music Awards and the prime-time reality show "Nuestra Belleza Latina."
But the deal does not include Univision's most popular telenovelas, the steamy serial soap operas produced by Grupo Televisa in Mexico that include "Cuidado Con el Angel," which aired earlier this year, and "Un Gancho al Corazon," which are the main audience-drivers to the network.
That's because Univision is locked in a legal dispute with Televisa, its main programming supplier, which provides about 40% of its programming. One part of that dispute was settled in January, but the issue of who has the right to distribute Televisa programming in the U.S. is still up in the air, hampering Univision in its bid to build its online presence and stopping Televisa from expanding its Mexican media empire in the U.S.
Some background: In 1992, Univision signed a 25-year exclusive U.S. TV rights deal with Televisa, but naturally that deal did not address whether Univision's distribution rights included anything resembling the internet. Business went sour between the two, and Televisa ended up suing Univision for violating the terms of the original deal by underpaying royalties.
While that suit was settled earlier this year, the issue of who has the right to distribute shows on the web in the U.S. wasn't. A U.S. judge ruled in July that Televisa doesn't hold the rights but stopped short of granting them to Univision, though Univision has said it hopes to gain those rights soon.
In the meantime, perhaps because of the animus involved, Televisa simply ignored the fact that fans were uploading its telenovelas to YouTube, where they were accumulating hundreds of millions of views. Cumulatively, Univision clips had far more views than Fox, ABC, NBC or CBS on YouTube, according to web analytics firm TubeMogul. A new telenovela, "Sortilegio," which premiered Oct. 6, has already garnered nearly 70 million views on YouTube.
Because it has no control over whether Televisa policed YouTube for pirated copies, Univision has little control over which Televisa shows end up there. Ironically, that has given Univision a sense of whether their presence online hurts ratings: not much. Univision is one of few broadcast networks increasing its audience year-over-year, whether its shows are on YouTube or not.
Unlike some of its network brethren, Univision is putting up full episodes of the shows it has the right to do so on YouTube.
In a conference call, Kevin Conroy, president of Univision Interactive Media, didn't address whether Univision would put Televisa shows on YouTube even if it could. "We'd very much like to be able to offer Televisa's content as video," Mr. Conroy told Ad Age in September. "We're not in a position to do it quite yet."
Televisa has become more aggressive about policing YouTube over the past year, and now it distributes its shows on its own site, Esmas.com, which is blocked for U.S. viewers. The number of pirated clips of Televisa-produced Univision shows are down 53% since February, according to TubeMogul.