TV Upfront

Bill Clinton Opens Univision's Upfront Presentation

Spanish-Language Network Targets Bilingual Millennials, or Billennials

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Bill Clinton with Alicia Menendez, a host on Fusion, the joint venture between Univision and Disney.
Bill Clinton with Alicia Menendez, a host on Fusion, the joint venture between Univision and Disney. Credit: Univision
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"I'm well aware I'm just the warm-up act for Ricky Martin," Bill Clinton told the audience at Univision Communications Inc.'s upfront presentation Tuesday.

With President Clinton to kick off the show with a 15-minute Q&A, 1,850 agency and client execs accepted the invitationto attend and awarded the former president a standing ovation.

He noted that when he was president two decades ago, it was more common for young Hispanics to drop out of school to help support their families. Now, they are more likely to stay in school, increasing the level of education and prosperity, and narrowing the wage gap with non-Hispanics.

"If I were an advertiser, I would study the changing demographics very carefully," he said.

The only thing that makes sense, he said, is "to have a policy of radical inclusion." Where people practice inclusive economics, "good things happen."

President Clinton didn't mention his wife Hillary or her run for the presidency. His appearance wasn't an act of political partisanship by Univision (although the Spanish-language network's star anchor Jorge Ramos has been highly critical of the Republican Party's intransigence on immigration issues); Univision invited former President George W. Bush too, but he didn't accept.

He talked about what worries him, from violence around the world to climate change, but recommended being "upbeat and relentlessly forward looking. Every person needs to be in the future business."

The event's other big star, Grammy Award-winner Ricky Martin, talked briefly about the talent show "La Banda" developed with Simon Cowell's SYCO Entertainment that he is both executive producing and judging. In its second season, La Banda 2 will switch from boy bands to girl bands, with the goal of creating "the first ever Latina super group."

Steve Mandala, Univision's EVP, advertising sales, complained that 13 of the top 50 brands advertising on English-language networks still don't buy time on Univision. He cited some of the success stories of brands that do advertise on Univision: JC Penney's sales to Hispanic customers are growing three times faster than sales to non-Hispanics. Papa John's pizza sales grew by 43% to Hispanics but just 4% to non-Hispanics. And almost 20% of Nissan's total sales are to Hispanics.

Mr. Mandala referred to the desirable bilingual millennial target group as "billennials" and said 17 of the top 20 programs watched by billennials are on Univision, which is building English-language media brands for them like Robert Rodriguez' El Rey channel and Fusion, a joint venture with Walt Disney Co.

Among coming attractions, Univision announced that the Copa America will play its soccer tournament in the U.S. for the first time in 2016. New drama series include "Logout," a thriller about the deep dark part of the internet beyond search engines, and "Ruta 35," delving into the dangerous lives of police informants. The slate of soap operas from Mexican media giant Televisa includes "Lo Imperdonable" ("The Unforgivable") about a man who marries the beautiful woman he mistakenly blames for his brother's death in the jungle in order to ruin her life, and "Antes Muerte Que Lichita" ("Better Dead Than Ordinary"), about a young woman at an ad agency who goes from downtrodden and betrayed by a lover who steals her ideas at work to empowered.

Alberto Ciurana, president of programming and content, also announced the first "Social Media Awards," a two-hour special recognizing players and celebrities who create content that Hispanics love. Unlike English-language TV, where award shows often struggle in the ratings, award shows are popular with Spanish-speaking audiences.