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TV Upfront

Univision Upfronts: Family, Futbol and the Evolution of Telenovelas

By Published on .

Shakira at Univision's upfront presentation on Tuesday.
Shakira at Univision's upfront presentation on Tuesday. Credit: Univision
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Univision Communications pitted its "Proof of Passion" upfront presentation on Tuesday against Telemundo's celebration the previous day of a Hispanic "shift" to its programming.

"We've heard how there's some kind of shift happening," said Steve Mandala, Univision's exec VP of advertising sales. "That is a crock of shift."

Executives on stage talked up the five passion points that they said continued to drive audiences' engagement with Univision: soccer, news, family, music and drama.

And Keith Turner, president of advertising sales and marketing, announced a new Creative Board for Univision's youth and diversity-oriented Fusion TV, to include actresses Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Jody Foster, Puerto Rican rapper Residente, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. as the chairman.

Univision execs described the network as "the home of soccer," with a lock on most Mexico league soccer games, and rights to Europe's prestigious UEFA Champions League starting next year.

Telemundo will actually broadcast the 2018 FIFA World Cup, although you'd have never known that from Univision's presentation.

"We are in Russia for the 2018 World Cup," said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, president of Univision Deportes. "We'll be the home of the game around the game."

Telemundo in 2011 outbid Univision for the 2018 and 2022 Spanish-language rights to the Cup in a deal worth a reported $600 million. Fox secured the English-language rights for more than $400 million, replacing ABC/ESPN. Fox and Telemundo in 2015 extended their deals in 2015 to include the 2026 Cup.

Keith Turner, president of advertising sales and marketing, during Univision's presentation.
Keith Turner, president of advertising sales and marketing, during Univision's presentation. Credit: Univision

Lourdes Diaz, who joined Univision as president of entertainment six months ago after four years at Comedy Central and a stint at NBC Universal Media as VP-primetime programming, introduced family-friendly shows like "Pequenos Gigantes USA" ("Little Giants"), a reality show competition among children. She also highlighted "Tu Cara Me Suena" ("Your Face Sounds Familiar"), in which celebrity contestants compete to recreate the performances of even more famous singers.

Univision CMO Jessica Rodriguez described some changes in the traditional melodramatic telenovelas as viewers' interests have evolved. The nightly 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. novelas won't be affected, but she said the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. novelas will have fewer episodes, a faster pace and more complex characters than the traditional heroes and villains.

Univision closed with pop star Shakira performing a new song (Telemundo had a private concert with Enrique Iglesias). And both Spanish-language networks announced rival shows in the works about the same Mexican music idol, Luis Miguel. Univision is working on bio series "Luis Miguel: El Sol de Mexico," while Telemundo is doing a Luis Miguel TV series.