TelevisaUnivision CEO talks up linear, eyes ‘big bets’ on Spanish-language series

Wade Davis

TelevisaUnivision CEO Wade Davis has outlined how his company’s linear TV strategy “fundamentally” differs from competitors, adding that “big bets” will be made on Spanish-language content in the coming years.

The Spanish-language firm has been expanding at pace over the past year, following the $4.8bn merger between Televisa and Univision, with streamer Vix launching into the US and most of Latin America last year.

The service houses around 300,000 hours of content, but Davis told SeriesFest that unlike most competitors, linear TV remains a vital component.

“We have a fundamentally different strategy because we believe in linear television,:” he told SeriesFest here in Denver. “It needs to evolve but it still plays a hugely important cultural role in Hispanic households in the US.

“We can afford to programme the linear platform for what it is good at and the streamer for what it is good at.”

Tapping the telenovela

Davis, a former cross-country skier who spent more than a decade at Viacom before joining Univision, described linear as “cultural and habituated viewing”, where the telenovela remains a key driver of audiences.

La Mujer del Diablo

“The traditional telenovela experience is very culturally important and relevant, on any given night for the 18-34 demo we will beat every other TV outlet in the country regardless of language, normally by two time,” he said.

Davis admitted the genre needed to “evolve” in production quality, “infusing it with comedy, thriller, crime and action” but said it remained a “stripped viewing experience”.

“And that experience lasts roughly 80 episodes – that is not a streaming experience, you can’t stack or binge it. People will fatigue.

“Similarly, I can’t take a $1m per episode series and put it on linear TV because I’d burn through it in two weeks,” Wade added, describing streaming as shows with “high intent, offering something for everybody.”

‘Big bets’ on Spanish-language

Vix has been rapidly ramping up its originals output, with more than 70 shows on air or in production, ranging from Montecristo and La Mujer Del Diablo, to Mujeres Asesinas.

The company is also exploring coproduction opportunities but Davis said bigger investments would be made in several years time, once the consumption habits of Vix viewers had become clearer.

“We need the business to mature a bit more so we can make the really big bets in Spanish-language content, in two or three years.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with Mike Fries, CEO at Liberty Global – which invested in TelevisaUnivision – Davis also said Vix would become available via YouTube as it seeks to extend reach.

He also admitted that streamer desires to be “general entertainment businesses” in recent years had driven up production and marketing costs to unsustainable levels.

“There was a lot of exuberance around the growth prospects of streaming, people were saying how big can these things get and what will scale look like.

“Everybody was chasing some frankly not particularly well defined idea of what scale was, but ultimately scale has to mean something,” he said. The “real problem”, he said, came when “no one could articulate what the economics of the business would look like three years out.”

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