Hola, Hulu! Univision telenovelas come online

October 5, 2011 - 12:05 PM
Hulu Univision

This undated image provided by Univision shows a scene from the telenovela, “La Fuerza del Destino,” The Power of Destiny. Univision, the nation's No. 1 Spanish-language broadcaster, is bringing its popular telenovelas and other prime-time TV programming to online video service Hulu.(AP Photo/Univision)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Univision, the nation's No. 1 Spanish-language broadcaster, is bringing its popular telenovelas and other prime-time TV programming to online video service Hulu.

The deal announced Wednesday gives Hulu a way to sell advertising to a growing Hispanic population and entice them to pay for subscriptions that unlock more content. Univision gets a chance to make the kind of money from reruns that English-language programs have long enjoyed.

Hulu's paying subscribers will get the majority of Univision's prime-time offerings the day after airing on regular TV. Hulu says more than 1 million people pay $8 a month for Hulu Plus, which lets them watch shows on devices other than a computer and access a deeper library than the free version.

Full episodes of certain shows will also be available on the free version of Hulu a day after being broadcast on TV. Both free and paid versions of Hulu come with ads.

Univision's popular shows include the current telenovela "Teresa" and variety show "Don Francisco Presenta."

The multi-year agreement is the first major online deal since Univision Communications Inc. settled with Mexican producer Grupo Televisa SAB late last year for the right to show Televisa programs to U.S. audiences over the Internet.

Hulu said it will launch the service with a revamped website later this year.

Hulu is up for sale by its owners, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp., Comcast Corp. and Providence Equity Partners. The length of the deal suggests that the arrangement would continue under new owners if a sale is completed soon.

Until now, Hispanic audiences haven't had a good reason to turn to Hulu on the Web. They represent 16 percent of the U.S. population — around 50 million people — a large untapped group for Hulu and its advertisers.

"It is a significant audience. It's young. It's vibrant. It's growing," said Andy Forsell, senior vice president of content acquisition for Hulu. "This audience is of huge interest to advertisers."

Univision turned to the online video service for its reach and advertising sales force, as well as the ability to benefit from Hulu's subscriber fees in a way that the free-to-air broadcaster has not enjoyed before. Hulu and Universal aren't saying how much Hulu is paying for the rights.

Popular English-language shows such as "Two and a Half Men" can make millions of dollars from reruns. By contrast, Spanish-language telenovelas haven't profited from a rerun market until now.

Tonia O'Connor, Univision's president of distribution sales and marketing, said the deal with Hulu marks the first time its shows have a life beyond the initial broadcast.

O'Connor said Univision plans to explore other deals to reach Internet-savvy Hispanic audiences in the U.S. Next year, it also plans put shows on its own website but reserve them for subscribers who pay for their TV signals through distributors such as cable and satellite TV companies.

Univision experimented with online distribution last year by putting episodes of telenovela "Eva Luna" on its website a day after airing on regular TV.

The show's TV audience reached 5.2 million viewers in April, while drawing 790,000 online video streams and 318,000 streams from mobile devices that month.

Univision was allowed to market Televisa shows online after the two sides reached an agreement in October last year that settled a long-running dispute.

Televisa agreed to invest $1.2 billion in New York-based Univision in exchange for a minority stake, while Univision received the U.S. rights to distribute Televisa shows online, to cellphones and to video-on-demand services through at least 2020, on top of its ongoing TV broadcast rights.