december coverA Whole New World

When Paula Beltrán landed a job as a Census taker, it may have seemed like little more than good fortune. But her position was no accident. It was all part of the grand design that lies at the core of Telemundo’s success. As the second-largest U.S. Spanish language network, Telemundo operates a more nimble organization than its competitor, Univision. In order to stay competitive, it has adopted an attitude of innovation and has often been the first to bring new technology to its audience. Paula Beltrán, a character on Telemundo’s Más Sabe el Diablo, and her job with the Census demonstrated the key element that sets the network apart from the competition—content creation.

In media, “content is your currency,” says Don Browne, president of Telemundo. “It will ensure that you’re competitive in distribution, no matter what the [outlet].” By exploring ways to distribute and expand content through new mediums like the internet and mobile phones, Telemundo is well-poised to grow each pillar of the network’s ambitious mission: entertaining, informing, educating, and empowering the Latino community.


Necessity Equals Invention

Telemundo was born in 1954 as a single station in Puerto Rico. Its founder was Angel Ramos, who also owned the island’s primary newspaper, El Mundo, and its first radio station, WKAQ, known as Radio El Mundo. In an effort to maintain consistent branding, he created the Telemundo name, combining “television” with “mundo.”

In the late 1980s, Reliance Capital Group purchased the Telemundo channel along with independent television stations in California, Florida and New Jersey, then merged them to create the Telemundo Group. By 1991, it acquired enough local Spanish stations to dot the U.S. map, and the network was soon producing 24-hour news as well as original telenovelas that were syndicated to international markets. Telemundo’s initial programming success suffered a blow when Mexico’s Televisa purchased the production house generating the shows. Telemundo turned back to the more traditional model of importing content directly from Latin America but couldn’t keep up with the competition. “We had to reinvent ourselves,” Browne recalls.

It was an incredible challenge, as well as an investment, but
the company returned to its initial plan, banking its success on the ability to create home-grown programming. Necessity was indeed the mother of invention, Browne explains. According to The Museum of Broadcast Communications, Telemundo produced 50% of its programming by 1995, including telenovelas, movies, game shows, variety shows, sports programs, talk shows and news programs.

Now, Telemundo is the second largest producer of Spanish-language content in the world. Following their lead, Univision has been developing new U.S.-based production facilities to begin producing their own programs in addition to the long-standing contract they have with Televisa.


That’s Entertainment

Entertainment is, of course, among the company’s goals, with groundbreaking audience favorites like Sin Senos No Hay Paraiso, ¿Dondé Está Elisa? and El Clon. Patricio Wills, president of Telemundo Television Studios, is keenly aware of the need to keep viewers interested and coming back for more. He continually seeks to create “something with a different flavor, different from anything the public has ever seen. “Tenemos que inovar,” Wills says. In many cases, this means capturing a distinct U.S. Hispanic feel—impossible for imported programs.

News is also crucial to the network. “The Hispanic community relies on TV to be informed,” Browne says. Not only is there a language barrier presented by English-language news, but there is also a lack of coverage concerning issues central to the U.S. Hispanic community and Latin American countries of origin. For example, Telemundo led in coverage of the recent immigration turmoil in Arizona.

Currently, the organization is “going back to the future by putting more resources toward news,” Browne says. News was a leading part of Telemundo’s early formula, and in coming months and years the company will add resources and staff at local levels to better cover issues in particular regions or areas that can be aggregated and shared across the network. Telemundo’s online audience also will see a growth in digital news.


Raising the Bar

Ultimately, content creation boosts the bottom line by allowing advertisers and partners to participate in the programming. “We have pioneered a unique connection with businesses, clients and agencies,” Browne says. “Before a word is ever written in a script, we can organically, creatively incorporate [advertisers’] ideas within programs where the messages live with relevancy. … We can create a character based on a demographic that matches the brand’s target. If you buy a ‘can,’ there is no opportunity to integrate. It comes as it is, and that’s what you get.”

In addition, this approach helps Telemundo to educate viewers on issues closer to home. “We incorporate very strong social messages,” Browne explains. “Our audiences learn a great deal from telenovelas on issues such as childcare, spousal abuse, the Census…we deal with real issues and how you cope with them. We’re raising the bar in the content that we create and betting on the intelligence of our viewer.”

Take the case of the Census taker in Más Sabe el Diablo. Accurately counting the Hispanic community is a recurring problem for the Census Bureau. In response, Telemundo employed community education and awareness methods to explain the importance and security of filing Census data with the ¡Hazte Contar! initiative that covered all Telemundo properties, and a partnership with Young Minds Inspired to take the message into classrooms through virtual lessons. The truly unique element, however, was the incorporation of the significant message into the telenovela, where the message could be explained in context and as an accepted, natural and unthreatening part of life in the United States.

Caso Cerrado serves as another example. The prime time show features real people seeking advice from host Dr. Ana María Polo. The cases come from real life. “People see her as a source of help and guidance,” Browne says. “She helps them cope with daily life.” Other telenovela storylines include self-esteem in La Mujer En El Espejo, immigration and breast cancer in Anita No Te Rajes, missing children in Gitanas, and literacy in Prisionera. “It’s a very unique service that we can provide to our community,” says Alfredo Richard, senior vice president of communications and talent development.


Focus on Education

The bottom line, Telemundo executives agree, is that the network is there to empower Latinos. “Serving our community is at the core of who we are and what we do,” Browne says. When Telemundo turned back to creating original programming, there wasn’t a place in the industry for Hispanic talent in Spanish-language television. As part of the investment, the company took a “build it and they will come” approach, Browne explains. And that they did. Telemundo became—and still is—a major job creator, creating an academic partnership, Taller Telemundo, to identify, train and inspire a new generation of writers and actors. Many of the program graduates were later hired by Telemundo.

Beyond employment, the company empowers the Latino community through proactive initiatives and partnerships with numerous organizations. “We take a look every year at the issues affecting the community,” Richard says. While the company is active on a number of fronts, education remains at the top of the list.

In 2004, Telemundo launched El Poder de Saber with Maria Celeste Arraras, a multi-platform initiative that urges Hispanics to seize the “power” of education. The messages focus on the advantages of staying in school, the value of a high school diploma, encouraging parents to be actively involved in their children’s education and other relevant topics. The initiative includes on-air public service announcements, digital support through links on to non-profit and community organization resources, and visits by Telemundo talent to schools. In 2010, Telemundo partnered with parent company NBC and subsidiary Mun2, the bicultural youth-oriented cable channel, to expand the program. NBC News presented the Education Nation initiative and Mun2 mirrored Telemundo’s efforts with their own flair, Richard says.

The Padres Héroes program was created to address high school drop out rates, aiming to highlight the importance of educational achievements in the Hispanic community. The heroes are parents who have managed to put their children through college through dedication and personal sacrifice. Together, Telemundo and Verizon Wireless awarded Gusmaro Reyes $10,000 and a free trip to Hawaii, and recognized runners-up at the local level.


Keeping Pace

For all of its contributions, the company has been honored with numerous awards from organizations such as the Communication and Media Award from the California Association for Bilingual Education, the Sentinel Health Award for storyline integration, Advocate of the Year for women’s issues from MANA, and the Annual Leadership in Spanish Television Award from the Latin Emmys. “We couldn’t have done it without our partners in non-profit and community organizations,” Richard says. Partnerships with organizations such as MANA, the National Latino Media Coalition, the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility, the National Council of La Raza, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and a number of others give Telemundo grassroots reach directly into communities and allows their initiatives to reach viewers in a way that makes sense.

Following the upcoming merger of NBC with Comcast, Telemundo will continue to lead in content, says Browne. To continue to serve an audience that is rapidly evolving in an era of technological revolution, the business model will have to keep pace. Wills says Telemundo is up to the challenge when it comes to programming. Not only are shows being prepped for viewing in multiple platforms, but the level of programming quality is also improving.

“Moving viewers from plain cheese to sushi doesn’t happen overnight,” Wills jokes, but he is confident that it will.

The future is bright for Telemundo, as long as content remains king.