Televisa and Univisión, the powerful Spanish-language television giants, recently fused in a Google and Softbank-backed merger worth $4.8 billion. In mid-February, the two media companies announced the creation of Vix, a streaming platform with both free and subscription options that will cater to a global market of 600 million people.
TelevisaUnivisión aims to become a global company, based on its position as the largest producer of Spanish-language entertainment in the world. For now, that may be enough for this newfangled double-act, but no amount of rebranding can disguise that this is a remake of something we’ve seen before: The same telenovela padded out with algorithms, data, and a half-hearted makeover.
For the two once-mighty media companies, past successes are the first hurdle they’ll have to overcome. From the start, Vix will have to battle a demon that newer streaming services do not: its parent company’s existing reputation among Spanish-speaking audiences.
Among the Mexican upper and middle class and among first-generation Hispanics in the U.S., to confess an appreciation for the content made by Televisa or Univisión can lead to acute social embarrassment. The old-fashioned, low-brow content traditionally made by these companies has made them the ultimate guilty pleasure.
These unspeakable tastes make any aspiration by the company to position itself within the premium streaming market a difficult one. It will be especially difficult because Mexico is one of the toughest battlegrounds in the ongoing global “streaming wars” — a term that refers to the battle to capture audiences and subscribers by billion-dollar digital streaming platforms, including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Peacock, and HBO Max.
But, at the same time, it is a company united under the banner of conquering the global Spanish-language content market, which, in the U.S. alone, is estimated will exceed 77 million people by 2030.
Once upon a time, Televisa and Univisión were twins separated soon after birth. Univisión was born when the then-named Mexican Telesystem (most recently Televisa) expanded to the United States in the 1960s, through the purchase of different local stations. Mexican Telesystem carried out these acquisitions using namesakes of dubious legality to avoid U.S. laws, which prevented non-U.S. citizens from owning more than 25% of a radio or TV station. Although the companies were forced to separate by U.S. regulators in 1986, in 2021 these companies have since reunited.
In today’s media landscape, Televisa and Univisión need one another, given the rise of digital media. Televisa has ceased to be the all-powerful company it once was in Mexico. It no longer sets the Mexican national agenda. It is no longer the global benchmark for exported content — its famous telenovelas. It can no longer look forward to acquiring transmission rights for sporting events in Spanish without facing major competitors. Just recently, Televisa’s satellite TV branch, Sky, lost out to Paramount+ for the rights to broadcast the Premier League in Mexico.
Univisión needed Televisa because most of its successful content had always come from its Mexican sister. And when Univisión does produce its own content, it requires Televisa’s Mexican infrastructure to lower production costs. Univisión also recognized that it couldn’t go it alone after realizing that it was not going to conquer the U.S.’s “new Hispanics” — English-speaking and second-generation residents. Univisión has now sold its previous acquisitions involving Deadspin, Gizmodo, and The Onion and has opted to go back to its Spanish-speaking origins.
By launching Vix in two formats, AVOD (video on demand supported by advertising, like the ads on YouTube) and Vix+ (video on demand supported by subscriptions, like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video), Televisa and Univisión aspire to emulate the transformation undergone by Ugly Betty, one of their most popular remakes.
Vix will don a flashy new design as imagined by Michael Cerdá, former vice president of Disney+, who was poached to coordinate product and engineering on the platform. It will host the likes of Salma Hayek, Peruvian Nobel Prize–winner Mario Vargas Llosa, Eugenio Derbez, and Yalitza Aparicio. It will cloak itself in the power of futbol, which will once again act as the strategic attractor of subscribers, as it has historically done for Televisa. It will primp and preen with the prestige afforded by having Google and Softbank as investors, technological allies that will allow Vix to present itself as a member of high digital society.
But the way content will be produced will not change much. Although the ad-run version of Vix can expect to retain its old followers, who will return for the same old telenovelas, football, and newscasts, making it attractive to the big advertisers it will need to survive, Vix+’s outlook is less optimistic.
Vix+ lacks the status and prestige of other streaming services among newer audiences. Add to that a changing global media landscape, one in which Netflix’s most famous product is a Korean series. In Mexico alone, Netflix announced that it will invest $300 million in 2021 to launch 50 original productions; that’s $100 million more than in 2020. At the regional level, Disney+ reported at the end of 2020 that 70 original productions were in development. Meanwhile, at its regional launch in June of last year, HBO Max anticipated the premiere of 100 original productions in the next two years.
Meanwhile, Vix will be going all-out in Spanish-language content when that seems to matter less than ever to audiences increasingly watching multilingual, international content. To make matters worse, because original productions will continue to be TelevisaUnivisión’s main product, they will have to crank content out at an unprecedented rate to keep up with multinational content creators like Netflix and Disney, while not offering additional services the way Amazon and Apple do.
Vix is too late to the streaming party. If the financial markets initially believed Netflix when it promised that profitability lay behind acquiring subscribers at any cost, its recent slowdown has led investors to punish all streaming platforms equally.
In the last quarter, Paramount+ added more than 7 million subscribers. And what was it met with? A 20% drop in the value of its shares. Why? Because the paradigm has changed: It is now assumed that the bounty for whoever wins the streaming wars will be a much smaller business than previously thought.
Vix has arrived late to a dying party. That it’s brought along the same content it’s always bet on smacks of a lost battle.