Univision CEO Falco Picks Ad Fight With NBCU

Man Once Poised to Lead NBC Aims to Lead Ad Dollars Away From Network, Saying Marketers Would Be Wise to Invest In More-Viewed Hispanic Shows

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The man once poised to lead NBC now hopes to lead ad dollars away from that storied network.

Randy Falco
Randy Falco

Randy Falco, the former NBC Universal honcho named Univision's chief executive last year, has been making a bold pitch to ad buyers: The number of consumers between the ages of 18 and 49 watching such programs as "La Fuerza Del Destino" is growing, so why not take the ad money you give to NBC and other English-language broadcast networks and give it to us?

A print campaign that takes a direct shot at the Peacock Network is slated to launch March 19. One headline reads, "Guess how many nights we beat NBC in 2011?" The answer is handily provided in the ad: 195 (in prime-time audiences ages 18-to-49).

NBC Universal declined to comment, but Mr. Falco, whose tenure spanned more than three decades at the network, had no such reticence. "It's about how we get more English-language general-market money, if you will, moving to Univision," he said, adding that with so many other viewing options for consumers, "whether it's NBC or anyone else somewhere along the line, the slowest animal in the herd is going to get cut."

Univision's aggressive maneuver is a signal of how shifts in TV viewership are empowering to nontraditional media outlets. Univision's ad revenue grew 16.7% in 2011, to nearly $2.2 billion, according to data from Kantar. CBS, ABC and NBC saw revenue shrink slightly, though they all continued to collect billions more in ad dollars than Univision ($6.3 billion for CBS; $4.9 billion for ABC; and $4.2 billion for NBC).

Many networks have seen traditional viewers disperse as consumers find they can watch their favorite shows online or via portable tablets, said Danielle Gonzales, exec VP-managing director of Tapestry, a Publicis Groupe media-buying unit that specializes in multicultural media. That's not the case for the Spanish-language audience, which "has been relatively consistently dominated by TV networks." That gives Univision some license to act as if there's blood in the water.

Univision's stance coincides with changing U.S. demographics that have gained more notice for the audience that tunes into Spanish-language TV. More of the members of the coveted 18-to-49 who watch Univision speak both English and Spanish, said David Lawenda, president-advertising sales and marketing at the network. "These viewers have a choice," he said. "They can watch "Modern Family' on ABC or "American Idol' on Fox," but they're more likely to tune in to one of Univision's popular novelas.

In its pitch, Univision is making the point that its average viewership is younger than that of the broadcast networks, and that its viewers tend to watch Univision rather than picking and choosing programs from among dozens of cable and broadcast networks.

The audience for shows such as
The audience for shows such as "La Fuerza Del Destino" is growing. So why not move general-market dollars, asks Falco.

Univision may get recognition among ad buyers, but it's not clear whether it will get the NBC, Fox or CBS network dollars it craves. "It's not a matter of whether one cuts and one adds," said Mike Rosen, president-director of activation at Publicis Groupe 's Starcom. Spanish-language TV "is a part of the consideration set of national video options," but that doesn't always mean advertisers should draw from one to supplement the other, he said. Advertisers should instead find out what their customers are most passionate about and spend money around those connections, Mr. Rosen said. Univision's prime-time novelas, for example, have very intense fans and have grown more advertiser-friendly in recent years. 

And while Univision does have a good segment of the young viewers marketers desire, broadcast also has its fair share of options as well. Univision's top-rated programs among 18-to-49ers include "La Fuerza Del Destino," which has attracted an average of 2.6 million in that age range on its Tuesday-night airings season to date through March 4, according to Nielsen. Compare that to ABC's middling "Cougar Town," which snares an average of 2.46 million. A more popular show, CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," nabbed an average 7.2 million in that same time period.

Univision may also be striking now to get out ahead of rivals: News Corp.is preparing to launch MundoFox, a Spanish-language network for the U.S. But don't feel too bad for NBC Universal. It owns Univision rival Telemundo.

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