How Univision has grown its digital presence with a mission-driven focus

When President Trump in early September called for an end to DACA, the program that shields undocumented young immigrants from deportation, fear spread through the Hispanic community. Univision covered the news like a lot of media outlets, but it also broadcast a conversation with legal experts that night who took questions from people watching on Facebook.

To Borja Echevarria, vp and digital editor in chief of news at Univision, the video was a prime example of how the broadcaster serves an audience that finds itself increasingly vulnerable in the Trump era and is often directly impacted by the headlines that come out of the White House.

“This is a moment when service journalism becomes so important for us. We were talking with lawyers about what we should do, to the community about their problems and telling personal stories,” Echevarria said. “As any journalist, I love to get a scoop. I’d love to have a lot of insights from the White House. But that is not the No. 1 priority when I think about how to serve our audience.”

The live video also was an example of how Univision, the leading source of news for Hispanics in the U.S., has upped its digital game to build and retain an audience outside of TV broadcasts as people, especially its already-young audience, are more inclined to get their news from social media rather than TV. Two years ago, the focus was on growing digital pageviews. Under Echevarria and Sameer Deen, svp of digital for Univision, who arrived, respectively, in 2014 and 2015, the digital team has grown from 15 to 75 people and begun creating articles and videos specifically for platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

“We realized we needed to be where people are spending a lot of time and create natively for these platforms,” Deen said.

Other media companies that started in text have to figure out how much to cater to the social networks’ preference for video. Univision doesn’t have that same dilemma, since video is already at its core. The challenge was to adapt polished, broadcast TV-style video for social media. An early outcome was Univision Digital Edition, a 30-minute newscast that Univision launched in 2016 and that’s broadcast simultaneously on TV and online. “It’s a bit more casual, the tempo is a little faster. The anchors are new and younger,” Deen said.

Univision News had 2.6 million unique visitors in August, up modestly from 2.2 million a year earlier, according to comScore. But off platform, its news video views have soared, to 133 million views on Facebook in August from 40.3 million a year earlier, according to Tubular Labs. (Univision itself puts the August 2017 number higher, at 151 million). On YouTube, views increased to 49 million on YouTube from 26.4 million in the same time period, according to Tubular.

The publisher pivot to video has its critics (it’s driven by what advertisers, not audiences, want, it’s hard to do profitably), Deen said it makes sense for Univision. “Video is an important way of telling a story. It’s not the only way, but as major platforms migrate that way, audiences are getting more accustomed to viewing video content. Networks are getting better able to handle the bandwidth, so the user experience is better. Ultimately, the user decides. I do think audiences are showing more desire for video content.”

Digital and TV have an often symbiotic relationship at Univision. In April, Univision launched “El Chapo Ilimitado” (“El Chapo Unlimited”), an aftershow on Facebook Live where fans could discuss episodes they of Univision’s own “El Chapo” TV series. The Facebook Live show was so popular, Univision ran the last episode on linear TV as well. In April Univision also released its first digital documentary, on Marlins pitcher José Fernández, which ran online and on TV simultaneously. News is of course a big priority. “As it relates to politics and immigration, we take a lot of pride in getting it out quickly,” Deen said. “In many cases, we’re their sole source of information.”

This porous nature of the newsrooms isn’t by accident. It used to be that media companies would raid online startups to infuse their organizations with digital skills. That thinking is shifting. Today, publishers realize that reporting skills come first, as CNN showed by hiring print reporters to strengthen its online politics coverage. Echevarria had already been through the process of helping a newsroom adapt to digital, having come from a print background (he was former deputy managing editor at Spain’s El Pais) and has made it a mission to make the TV and digital staffs more interchangeable.

“It’s less hard than I thought,” he said. “People don’t care how they communicate, if it’s broadcast or Facebook Live. I’ve had people doing things on TV with no TV experience. To me, what’s more important is journalistic talent.”

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