Across the universe

Latin American broadcast giant Televisa takes on transmedia.
March 31, 2011

Mexico City-based Televisa has created a new transmedia department to integrate content across its many platforms that include online, magazine publishing, film production and live events. With four free-to-air terrestrial channels in Mexico and pay-TV channels on Televisa Network and Univision in the US, the multimedia conglomerate airs more than 70,000 hours of programming per year.

At press time, Lenny Altschuler was only one month into his role at the helm of the newly formed transmedia department. It’s now one of the few divisions that spans the entire company to promote content, build and protect corporate brands, and develop new ones. “Our digital area has to work together with communications and publicity, which has to work together with the producer of a show and with sales and marketing to be able to address audience demands for a richer experience,” says Altschuler.

After attending a talk on transmedia last year, Altschuler decided to put together a presentation that spelled out the importance of leveraging multiple screens, platforms and social networks. His pitch resonated with the higher-ups at Televisa and they entrusted him with leading a transmedia movement at the company. Part of that decision, he explains, involved recognizing that a cultural shift in media consumption now demands reaching viewers across platforms in a very integrated way, and that online traffic is just as important as ratings.

“We saw the need for expanding content beyond the main TV platform,” says Altschuler. “It’s not replicating, but rather expanding the storylines.” He explains that the goal is to develop all-new content from its inception with a transmedia plan. Be it a telenovela, a children’s series, an annual charity telethon or a broadcast sporting event, the transmedia department will support and guide producers in creating content for all platforms. So far, he’s chock-full of ideas that range from setting up an interactive Twitter platform at sporting events during game time, to publishing magazine columns written from the point of view of popular telenovela characters.

New kids content coming

Altschuler says that incorporating transmedia strategies into children’s content at Televisa will be an ongoing goal in the months ahead as it works on a revamp of its kids division. Currently, children’s programming airs on Televisa’s Channel 5, but Altschuler says original content is limited and the slate includes a lot of Spanish-dubbed acquisitions. Top performers include Plaza Sésamo, co-produced with Sesame Workshop, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Though plans for reinventing Televisa Kids are still in the works, Altschuler says the broadcaster is committed to building transmedia experiences for children via on-air and online video screening, as well as through gaming and educational content. “There are new ways to teach and complement schools with interactive tools and features in an entertaining way,” he explains.

El Chavo reborn

The first kid-oriented project Altschuler plans to launch into the transmedia realm is the famous Mexican evergreen property El Chavo. The latest on-air iteration of the brand is El Chavo del 8, an animated series now in its fourth season on Televisa, based on a popular 70s live-action sitcom about the adventures and tribulations of orphan El Chavo and his apartment-building neighbors. Although it originated in Mexico, the property has cultural roots throughout Latin America and has proliferated on different platforms including books, comics, ancillary merch and live stage shows.

On deck for this summer, Televisa will be focusing on the release of El Chavo video games for Nintendo consoles,  as well as content on digital platforms such as mobile and iTunes. A fifth season of El Chavo del 8, which now boasts 110 eps, is currently in production and on-track to air in October. The series will continue to be produced at a pace of one new season per year.

“We have an opportunity this year to bring all of these elements together and create a unified experience,” says Altschuler. He adds that El Chavo was the most logical property to start with, not just because of the existing content and popularity, but because of its commercial attractiveness to clients.

Crossing demographics

This month Altschuler also plans to start development on a transmedia telenovela pilot. He wants to put a multi-touchpoint spin on the genre that is traditionally aimed at women over 40 to bring in other demos including kids.

“It will be a telenovela that is not just transmedia, but trans-audience,” says Altschuler. So choosing one of the three telenovelas that Televisa has greenlit, he will move its storylines and various characters across content tailored specifically to reach older kid viewers. For example, he explains, one of the telenovela’s young characters could get their own TV series or online video blogs to tell a new story. And the kid content would have the potential to be woven into Televisa’s children’s programming both on-air and online and across all platforms.

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