As president and chief revenue officer of global distribution and international at NBCUniversal, Belinda Menendez oversees the licensing of television and feature-film content to free-TV, pay-TV and new-media platforms around the world. Menendez has more than 20 years’ experience in the international television business, including as co-president of Universal Television Distribution and president of NBCUniversal International Television Distribution. She has been with the company through its acquisition by Comcast Corporation, rising to the position she holds today. She now oversees 20-plus offices around the world and teams of executives that sell a vast range of product, from procedurals such as the Law & Order and Chicago franchises and serialized shows such as The Sinner and Mr. Robot to feature films to “super series” from Telemundo, which, Menendez explains, are increasingly popular around the world.
WS: There are many drama series on the market that are dark and feature morally compromised characters. Are you starting to see demand for more optimistic fare?
MENENDEZ: Audiences gravitate toward great storytelling, and there’s a wide array of content available to viewers for their ever-changing tastes. There’s still a strong interest in captivating dramas with morally compromised characters, but there are also opportunities for lighter, more humorous programming and unscripted series. For example, Will & Grace and The Good Place are comedies that perform very well for us, and Rise is a really good example of a show with a more uplifting and hopeful tone.
WS: How are you rolling out Rise, and how has the series been received?
MENENDEZ: We first presented the show at the L.A. Screenings last year, and it was exceptionally well received. We are finding that Rise is getting a lot of traction. It has some unique elements that make for compelling television and addresses themes and topics that are relevant in the world today: youth/teen angst and people striving to achieve their dreams and aspirations. We’re very optimistic that it will be placed in many territories globally.
WS: Are you seeing serialized shows and procedurals selling differently than they did a few years ago?
MENENDEZ: It really depends on the country. In some markets, procedurals—with their closed-ended storylines—still work best on free TV. In others, free-TV audiences are embracing serialized shows more than ever. Over-the-top players are experimenting with procedurals as well. We’re also seeing hybrid shows (series that have a procedural component, but with a story arc that flows across the whole season, or seasons, of the show) work well on both platforms.
WS: To what outlets are serialized shows like The Sinner, The Arrangement or Mr. Robot selling?
MENENDEZ: Our strategy is really bespoke to the show and the country, but we’re placing these titles across a mixture of local linear, pay and SVOD. These are all extraordinary series that are tracking very well across every type of service, and some have pan-international deals.
WS: How has Dick Wolf’s Chicago franchise been selling? Do the three shows in the franchise generally all sell to the same outlet in a given territory?
MENENDEZ: All Dick Wolf titles are solid performers for us internationally. As you can imagine, it’s an extremely competitive marketplace and very difficult to secure three time slots for this franchise on one outlet, but they are all placed across the globe.
WS: Is there still demand for Law & Order: SVU?
MENENDEZ: Yes, there is still a lot of demand for the show, and it works very well in the international market.
WS: Tell us about Gone, the procedural jointly commissioned by NBCU International Studios, TF1 and Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland. Is Gone the type of procedural that is in demand by international broadcasters?
MENENDEZ: Yes, and this actually relates to your earlier question on the success of procedurals. In some respects, a few of the international broadcasters [believed] there was a vacuum in the marketplace and were looking for this type of product. As a result, this “trinity joint venture” was created. Gone is working very well across the territories where it has aired; it was the top-performing U.S. scripted show in the U.K. on Universal Channel, on VOX in Germany, on Universal Channel in Australia and on SBS’s Net5 in the Netherlands. In France, which is one of the partners in the joint venture, it was one of the top five performing U.S. shows.
WS: What can you tell us about Julian Fellowes’ upcoming show The Gilded Age?
MENENDEZ: There has already been quite a lot of buzz on this show; it will air on NBC and is set to premiere in the States in 2019.
Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame were the creative forces behind the global phenomenon Downton Abbey and have established a tremendous legacy with that series. From a distribution perspective, we’ve really had extraordinary success with Downton around the world, and with Julian and Gareth teaming up again for The Gilded Age, we’re very hopeful that this new series will have a similar impact.
WS: There are so many linear and nonlinear outlets today. How do you decide whether to sell a show territory by territory or make a multi-territory deal with an outlet like Netflix?
MENENDEZ: The strategy is tailored to each show. We have volume partners around the world that are an important part of our strategy, but in order to optimize revenue, it really is a combination of windowing across local free TV, basic [cable] and SVOD partners.
WS: How have Telemundo “super series” been selling internationally? In what countries and on which outlets are they well received?
MENENDEZ: The Telemundo Internacional team was in business for many years, and we just began managing the international distribution of Telemundo titles through our organization about a year ago. As we took it on, we were able to, in many cases, broaden the distribution of this content outside of traditional markets such as Latin America, Spain and France. We have now expanded into Africa, various parts of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
I’m sure you’re quite familiar with Telemundo and the extraordinary shift that it has made in the U.S. Hispanic market, which was previously dominated by Univision. One of the key drivers [of Telemundo’s success] was this new genre of telenovela called “super series,” which was much shorter, leaned more into crime and had modern storylines, strong female characters and higher production values. All of those components help to drive sales worldwide. We’ve seen a lot of interest and many deals have been closed and will continue to be closed.