While many traditional TV players are looking to diversify beyond linear TV, Univision, with Vince Sadusky at the helm, has spent the past year getting back to its roots as a Spanish-language broadcaster.
When Sadusky became CEO of Univision in June 2018, he inherited a company embroiled in executive turnover, a failed initial public offering and recurring speculation of a potential sale. In the year since, Univision has become more stable: It sold off Gizmodo Media Group, the group of publications it acquired from Gawker Media in 2016, and struck a new carriage deal with Dish Networks following a nine-month blackout.
But while Sadusky believes in the broadcast TV model, Univision’s ratings are challenged, and it has felt increased pressure from its main rival, NBCU-owned Hispanic-targeted broadcaster Telemundo. The two broadcasters are tied in the coveted 18-49 demographic season-to-date, while Univision is slightly ahead in total viewers. Univision is averaging 1.4 million viewers in prime time and an 0.4 rating, compared to 1.2 million viewers and an 0.4 rating for Telemundo. Both networks are down 20 percent in the demo year-over-year.
Heading into this year’s TV upfronts—when networks look to secure a bulk of their ad commitments for the new season—Univision is focused on re-establishing itself as a “super brand” for Hispanic audiences. It’s doing this by diversifying the faces both in front of and behind the camera and challenging female stereotypes, Jessica Rodriguez, chief marketing officer and president of entertainment, said at a press breakfast Tuesday morning. This means celebrating the “everyday woman” vs. portraying female characters as either helpless damsels in need of saving or clad in black and carrying a gun.
The company is also re-launching its other broadcast channel, UniMas, to focus on live programming. It will debut its first network newscast in the 10 p.m. hour starting next week, and is planning a live, interactive reality dating show that will air two hours each night, five days a week.
Univision is rebooting classic telenovelas and will also debut a new reality singing competition series to discover the next Latina star.
On the sports front, where Univision’s biggest focus is on soccer, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, president of sports, calls sports betting a “beautiful challenge” and says the company has five or six routes starting. But he added "the future is unclear."
Sadusky, who spoke with Ad Age before the spring ad haggle, says he isn’t concerned with Telemundo nipping at its heels. His bigger priority, he says: telling Univision’s refocused story to the ad marketplace.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What did you find when you joined Univision?
It’s an organization that has some really talented people who wanted to do well, but there was a lot of conflicting messages coming down from the top. There was just a lot of focus on everything from selling the company to taking the company public to shorter-term decisions around resources being cut in the wrong areas, and investment in things like English-language TV and English-language digital media—stuff that seemed really misguided.
Why do you think English-language programming was the wrong direction?
You have 500-plus choices for English-language programming. When you look at the fact that there are more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than any country in the world with the exception of Mexico, it’s a massive growth opportunity in an area where the company had really good expertise. I’m not sure why we got off of that and convinced ourselves we had to get into an area where we didn’t have historical expertise or any real core competency.
So what do you see as growth areas?
We’re blessed we are a broadcast network. I’d rather be in the broadcast business than be a general entertainment cable network.
Even amid so much viewer fragmentation?
If you were to ask, “Would you rather be CBS or AMC? Would you rather be ABC or Hallmark?,” clearly, you’d rather be the broadcast networks. They have the opportunity to produce fresh content every day, they have sports contracts, they have big event programming and they have a combination of network and localism, so they have local news. That’s a business that economically works and is hard to replicate on a daily basis. Univision has all those things.
Is the sale of the company or an IPO currently off the table?
At some point these owners will exit. But that’s not really a focus of mine. My focus is on the operations and the business; whatever they do from an ownership perspective is what they will do.
You spent 10 years at Telemundo. How concerned are you about that network’s growing success?
The fact that Telemundo is more competitive isn’t a terrible thing. The biggest challenge for our industry is really telling the story about the Hispanic community, which is a super attractive one in the U.S.
How are you planning to do this?
It’s an incredibly unexciting story; it’s really all about getting 4,500 people to all agree on the mission, be excited about it and get back to the business at being the best in class.
What was behind the decision to sell Gizmodo?
When Univision announced the purchase years ago, to be honest I actually had to read the article twice because I thought it was a misprint. It just didn’t make any sense on several fronts. When I got here there was a plan to fully integrate the businesses and that felt off-mission and just a really bad idea. Nothing they do is a reasonable adjacency to the business Univision is in.
Are there other areas ripe for acquisition or any white space you’re looking to fill?
No, not at all. On the digital side we’re continuing to build out our expertise, but I think we can build off of what’s been invested in in the past.
Speaking of digital, there’s a lot of conversation around OTT with Disney and WarnerMedia building out direct-to-consumer products. How is Univision looking at the space?
The company had a really robust effort. They launched their own direct-to-consumer product called U Now. But at the end of the day our pay-TV providers weren’t very happy about us going direct-to-consumers and we are 100 percent supportive of the pay-TV ecosystem. So we’re letting the smart, well-capitalized companies, the Disneys, go off and figure out the OTT business and see if there’s a business there.