Upfront Update: Univision/ESPN Get Their Game (and Grooves) On - Simon Applebaum

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Univision

Venue: Spanish-language TV's top dog earned kudos last spring for going Broadway with its presentation, so on with a return engagement at the grand New Amsterdam Theater near Times Square. One of the more colorful, sparkling locales for Broadway musicals, New Amsterdam offers great sight lines and the capacity to use multiple monitors on the sides of the stage as well as center, similar to Radio City Music Hall. Grade: 5 Jacks

Presentation: For years, Univision was chided both publicly and privately for being behind theunivision, fusion project, hispanic marketcurve on extending itself beyond the tube via the Internet or video-on-demand or high-definition format. Thanks to enlightened management and viewer demand, the company is now all in with digital, the Web, mobile and tablets. The point was celebrated a few minutes into Univision ad sales president David Lawenda's opening remarks when, in flash-mob style, pseudo-audience members with their smartphones and tablets rose out of their seats, up on stage and got their groove on to pop hit That's How We Like It. Lawenda himself let his boogie self-loose, crowd cheering all the way. Give him props for a willingness to be that way in public and just enjoy the moment. When Lawenda and Univision Networks president Cesar Conde weren't spoofing themselves, they were sticking it to the broadcast networks, especially NBC (killing an animated peacock accompanied by a fading NBC chimes theme, declaring how many days Univision topped NBC's primetime ratings with some demographics, or how DVR-proof their programming is against all broadcast nets). Lawenda also got bold, asking advertisers to move 15 percent of their TV budgets his way. As for pace, it's down to a science--brief but impactful videos, boil the segments for individual networks (Telefutura, Galavision, etc.) to two or three show highlights, sprinkle in some humor and a surprise guest (Modern Family co-star and former Univision personality Sofia Vergara, and leave people fired up with a Latino musical superstar. Shakira held court without Pitbull (he didn't make it through the pouring rain via airplane on time, so we're told), helped by a dazzling laser light display. Grade: 5 Jacks

News: Next frontier: a service for all screens, including connected/smart TVs with UVideos Digital Network. Thousands of hours from Univision's library, mixed in with some original productions, will be available once the service launches this summer. La Reina Del Sur star Kate Del Castillo has two "Webnovelas" in the hopper for UVideos, one of which she will direct. As for Univision's TV channels, Mexican programmer Televisa continues to dominate the new series supply, whether novela Amor Bravio (When The Heart Commands) on Univision or boxing drama Cloroformo on Galavision. One sleeper: Galavision Monday-through-Thursday primetime entry Detras del Saber/Behind Knowledge, dealing with unique world facts and stats. No update on the Univision/ABC News all-news English cable net, starting by mid-2013. Grade: 4 Jacks

Host: Lawenda and Conde split the assignment, each holding up their portions well. Nice tongue-in-cheek beginning on Conde's part, letting a boy in his image, right down to the tie, come out on stage first.Grade: 5 Jacks

Overall Grade: 5 Jacks On any level--pace, message, graphics, talent, opening videos (another classic with "Latinos Live Here" that should get posted on YouTube, like last year's clip), executive attitude--it's the tops.

ESPN

Venue: The always dependable and flexible Best Buy Theater near the corner of Broadway and W. 44th St. To get attendees in the mood, ESPN served Mr. Met, the Kentucky Wildcat and other mascots for breakfast, fist-pumping or high-fiving them at the top or bottom of the lobby escalators. Grade:4.5 Jacks

Presentation: What do you do when your channel doesn't have big breaking news (like grabbingrights to a major sports league) or a plethora of new series to hype? Answer: just play up new seasons of your favorites, such as Monday Night Football or College Gameday, and throw in top athletes for a quick chat which might produce a tidbit for sports columnists. In past years, ESPN would wrap this approach inside a mock edition of SportsCenteror ESPN2's SportsNation, and the result ended up flat and stilted. This time around, no issue and the athletes were up to having fun. Take Baltimore Ravens defensive star Ray Lewis' advice to top drafted quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III over how to succeed in the National Football League: "I'd tell them to run."

Grade: 4.5 Jacks

News: 30 For 30, the Peabody-winning documentary series, will return this October with 30 more episodes produced by independent filmmakers. This time, there will be a separate run of 30 short subjects online, premiering on the Grantland.com site headed by ESPN "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons. Elsewhere, ESPN will produce Nine For IX, nine specials marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX's adoption, opening the door for women's athletics this summer. Grade: 3 Jacks

Host: The tag team of SportsCenterdaytime anchor Sage Steele and Mike & Mike In The Morningco-host Mike Greenberg played off each other well. A fun watch and always energetic. Grade: 4 Jacks

Overall Grade: 4 Jacks You could say this showcase covered many bases in a fun fashion. Guess I did, making no apologies for the baseball pun.

5 Jacks - Excellent
4 Jacks - Very Good
3 Jacks - Good
2 Jacks - Fair
1 Jack - Poor
0 Jacks -Worse than bad

Next up: Telemundo, Discovery's U.S. Hispanic services (En Espanol/Familia) and TBS/TNT

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

Simon Applebaum is producer/host ofTomorrow Will Be Televised, the weekly Internet-distributed radio program covering the TV scene. Simon cal be reached at simonapple04@yahoo.com.

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