Univision Cracks Web Series Code

Web video is still waiting for its first breakout hit. And clearly, scripted shows just don’t work online. Forget about drama.
Tell that to Univision.
Where the broadcast networks have been timid when it comes original series, sticking to branded entertainment vehicles or one-off comedy experiments, Univision has been aggressively producing original Web telenovellas. It seems the Spanish-language network could teach the broadcast networks a thing or two about programming for the Web.
On May 16, Univision launched No Me Hallo (Finding Myself), a short-form, three-days-a-week Web soap that will conclude on June 17. The show is proving so popular that an extended version of the Webisodes will air on TV sometime this year, according to Kevin Conroy, president of Univision interactive media.
Earlier this year, a Univision TV hit Eva Luna garnered 5.5 million streams when it was subsequently distributed on Univision.com and its mobile outlets. That show followed in the footsteps of Univision’s Web breakout Vidas Cruzadas (Crossed Loves), an original online series which generated 2.8 million streams in 2009. Each show has included integrated brands as well; No Me Hallo counts State Farm, Kmart and Mist Natural as its sponsors.
So what lessons can Univision teach its English-language broadcast rivals?
For one, use real stars. For example, No Me Hallo features Angélica Vale, daughter of a famous actress who appeared in the Mexican predecessor of Ugly Betty. Similarly, Eva Luna starred Blanca Soto, a Mexican actress and beauty queen, and Guy Ecker a veteran of telenovellas.
“Recognizable talent is key,” said Conroy.
Next, produce and conceive of shows for the Web from day one. Perhaps counterintuitively, familiar genres are your friend. And if you are looking to create something that goes multiplatform, “you need to map out storytelling on each plaform from day one,” said Conroy. “Often these shows can be treated as an afterthought. We had our production teams and our interactive teams sitting together from the beginning. That’s the way to do it.”
Lastly, you need to get brands signed on early and weave their messages into shows’ storylines. “That’s the only way to make the economics work,” Conroy said. “Brands aren’t going to just attach their messages to unknown shows.”
It also helps to have a really hungry audience.
“In general, among the Spanish-language digital players, there is just a dearth of content,” said Marla Skiko, evp, director of digital innovation, Tapestry, Starcom MediaVest’s multicultural agency.
Indeed, while Telemundo did premiere a telenovella, Las Aparicio, online before it aired on TV in 2010, the network has been quiet in the sector of late. However, coming soon is Chavela Volcan, featuring the Mexican star Anjelica Maria. The show will be presented as a video blog tied back to the on-air series Mi Corazon Insiste.
“It’s even more compelling for Univision [and Telemundo] to create original content for the Web because there is not enough for this audience in either the Hispanic or English-language marketing. People are really hungry … that’s why the content is so popular. And all of a sudden this area can become hugely lucrative, while the English-language market is so fragmented.”
But Conroy disputed the idea that a successful Web series is simply the product of tapping an underserved market. He contends that the broadcast networks can and should follow suit.
“There is too much caution in the market,” he said. “The media business is absolutely ready for this. We’re seeing a different kind of primetime emerge.”
Which is impacting Univision’s tradtiional primetime. Conroy expects that more and more of the company’s upcoming Web shows will eventually be repackaged on TV. “This is becoming a reverse windowing model for us,” he said. “It’s an important piece of [the development] puzzle for us. It’s really become part of the fabric of our company.”



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