Spanish-language broadcaster Univision is the first network to snag an upfront deal this year.
Starcom USA and sibling multicultural media agency Tapestry are committing a significant amount of ad money from Burger King, Mars/Wrigley and Kellogg Co., among other clients, to Univision in the first publicly acknowledged pact in this year's upfront marketplace.
Starcom and Univision declined to specify terms of the deal, but executives said the volume involved was significant. The three marketers spent about $54.1 million with Univision in 2011, according to data from Kantar.
That this particular deal broke the upfront market signals a shift in how the annual event, during which TV networks try to sell ad inventory for the coming fall season, normally proceeds. Advertisers typically scramble to do deals with broadcast networks, and sometimes cable, with Spanish-language outlets wrapping up business toward the very end.
"There's a certain routine and tradition and legacy to our business that may not really be based on anything more than just tradition," said Mike Rosen, president-activation at Publicis Groupe 's Starcom. "We think that the power of Spanish-language media that 's been demonstrated by Univision content, its events, on all its platforms, is incredibly valuable to our clients as they try to win in the marketplace and win share gains and profitability."
Indeed, the deal comes before anyone can even dip their first shrimp in the cocktail sauce -- TV's annual upfront week is set to kick off Monday with Fox and NBC unveiling their fall programs to hundreds of advertisers.
"This is the most aggressive move that we've made in the marketplace, doing a deal this early of this size," said Danielle Gonzales, exec VP-managing director, Tapestry. "We made a big bet with them."
The pact will incorporate all of Univision's properties, including two broadcast networks, three cable channels, local TV and radio stations, and Univision's online, mobile and social video venues.
Univision collected nearly $2.2 billion in 2011, according to Kantar, an increase of about 16.7% over the previous year.
Starcom and Univision have been discussing the possible deal since late January, estimated David Lawenda, president-advertising sales and marketing at Univision. The company has made an aggressive pitch in recent months: With more of the consumers advertisers covet between the ages of 18 and 49 watching Univision content, why shouldn't marketers move more of their money to its telenovelas and other programming? The network even took out ads trumpeting Univision's performance over that of NBC's.
"This is the biggest single agency deal that we've done in Univision history, and the earliest date that we've ever done it," Mr. Lawenda said. "This deal underscores that the shift in the marketplace is very real and it's one that mirrors the changing demographics in this upfront."
Ms. Gonzales suggested some portion of the money being committed came from bringing new accounts and some new brands to Univison, though she noted a large amount came from clients who had done business with Univsion in the past. Even so, said Mr. Rosen, "any decision we make is going to impact other places where the money could have been spent, and I can tell you that certainly [these are] media dollars that could have been spent in other places, obviously in the Spanish-language networks as well as the English-language marketplace."
This upfront could mark a heady time for Spanish-language media. NBC Universal's Telemundo is the main rival to Univision. Meantime, News Corp. is preparing the launch of a broadcast network, MundoFox, and plans to make its pitch to advertisers next week along with the two more venerable outlets.