NBCUniversal’s Cesar Conde

Telemundo, a Spanish-language network serving Hispanic viewers in the U.S., hit an important milestone last year: it finished the 2016–17 season as the number one Spanish-language network in weekday prime-time viewing. The strong ratings have continued thanks to Telemundo’s programming strategy, which has focused on original productions, including super series, an evolution of the telenovela that presents contemporary topics and high production values. This scripted fare is flanked by entertainment shows, news and sports. This summer, Telemundo will be airing the FIFA World Cup, providing coverage on the network and across its digital platforms. Cesar Conde, the chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, talks to World Screen about building on the momentum that Telemundo has gained so far, leveraging ratings success with advertisers and serving the Hispanic community.

WS: What strategies have led to Telemundo’s ratings successes?
CONDE: We have an incredible team that decided to set a vision and say, we want to redefine Hispanic media, redefine what it means in the marketplace and what it means to our viewers and our community. From that premise, we decided to invest in four primary areas: our content, our infrastructure, our digital business and digital partnerships, and our people. We wanted to make sure that we were attracting the best people in front of and behind the camera.

To dig in a little bit on the content front: we felt that there was a unique opportunity for us to redefine media by speaking to what we thought was a void in the Hispanic market. We wanted to create content that spoke in a unique, culturally relevant way to the Latino audience in the U.S. We felt we had a competitive advantage because we were the only company that could develop original high-quality content for U.S. Hispanics, by U.S. Hispanics, in the U.S. That’s what we have begun to do and so far, we’ve had some nice results.

WS: Telemundo has also redefined Spanish-language programming by moving beyond classic telenovelas.
CONDE: In any business and any industry, you want to continue to innovate. Because our audience is evolving, we wanted to make sure that we were evolving with them. And so, yes, we tried to evolve from the traditional genres that were seen on Spanish-language TV. We created the super series, which has been a tremendous success, but we also pioneered the bio-musical genre. We tried to utilize what we think is one of the biggest passion points in the Latin American community, which is music. It transcends language, culture, heritage, age, and brings some of these great stories of our icons. In January, we premiered José José. This coming year we have the Luis Miguel bio series, we have the Nicky Jam bio series, we’ll do a Selena bio series. We’re celebrating our icons. We announced the first series from our new Telemundo International Studios division, El Recluso, which is a high-quality, premium series of 13 episodes. We’re going to continue to innovate, and we hope this brings more diversity of content and choice to our users and our consumers.

WS: Is it true that young Latinos don’t want to watch Spanish-language programming?
CONDE: We all know we have an incredibly fast-growing and robust Hispanic community; it’s what’s driving all the demographic growth in the U.S. and clearly, we skew young. But even with all of the choices of networks, language and platforms, Spanish-language programming is still the most-consumed and at the core of Hispanic media consumption, particularly in the younger demographics. I’ll give you an example: our super series El Señor de los Cielos, which is now going into season six. It was the number one network show at 10 p.m., regardless of language, in the 18-to-34 demographic. What that tells us is, if we provide high-quality, culturally relevant content that they cannot find anywhere else, our viewers are going to watch it.

WS: How is Telemundo working with advertisers?
CONDE: When we begin to have a dialogue with corporate America—and this is a collective effort across the industry—it starts with evangelizing and educating about the potential of the Hispanic community. One of the things that still strikes people [is that] if you were to take the Hispanic community as its own stand-alone country, the GDP of the Hispanic community would be the seventh-largest in the entire world. Seventh! That’s ahead of fast-growing emerging markets like India, Brazil and others. So, when you speak to corporate America, and you give them those facts and [explain] that they have this incredible growth opportunity right in their backyard, with all of the benefits of a fast-growing emerging market, but at the same time, with all the security and low-risk of the U.S., it’s an incredible value proposition for them. In the old days, people would say that the Hispanic market is large, but they don’t have consumer spending power. That’s changed. It has more than $1.7 trillion in consumer spending power. It is absolutely a huge opportunity, but it requires evangelizing and educating. Not because smart, very successful companies don’t want to understand it, it’s just that there are a lot of priorities for companies. But the good news is, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. When companies understand this opportunity, they jump on board.

After you get them over the hump of understanding the potential of the Hispanic opportunity for their business, the second point is then speaking to them about the [appeal] of the actual profile of the Hispanic consumer on Telemundo. We’re very fortunate that the characteristics of the Telemundo viewer are extraordinarily attractive to them. We skew much younger than all of our competitors in English and Spanish media. We have a consumer base that is digitally savvy and engaged, not only with our content but with all of our platforms. We have a consumer base that is looking for products, and they are much more loyal when they connect with a brand. So, those two combinations have begun to build the momentum that we to see in the marketplace.

The third element is creative thinking. Once we get them over the element of understanding the potential of the Hispanic market and why Telemundo is so attractive to them, [we must come up] with creative ideas that help them push their brands. A lot of companies are looking for solutions beyond the traditional 30-second commercial, and our content production team and our sales team are trying to create those unique opportunities. We’ve got MasterChef Latino, a great brand that is recognized not only in the U.S. and the Latino community but globally. This franchise lends itself to creative integration with our advertisers.

WS: Telemundo has a big event this year, the FIFA World Cup. What enabled you to bid on the rights?
CONDE: First, for Hispanics soccer is a religion, and the World Cup is our cathedral. This is the biggest sporting event on the planet! I can’t tell you how excited we are as a team for the World Cup opportunity.

The credit [for bidding on the rights] goes to Brian Roberts [chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation] and Steve Burke [CEO of NBCUniversal], my boss. I think it started with their belief that sports is one of the genres that has tremendous potential to transcend all of the different changes in our industry. NBCUniversal had made a big bet on the Olympics, and we made this bet on the World Cup. To have the Spanish-language rights to the World Cup has also sent an incredibly important message, not only to our employees but also to the industry, that NBCUniversal believes in the potential and growth of the Hispanic community and media business. We’re extraordinarily excited about that. Anyone would be excited, at any moment in time, to be able to broadcast the World Cup, but we’re very grateful to have that opportunity at a moment when we have so much momentum.

We will be trying to bring coverage of the World Cup in a way that’s never happened before. We are living in a world where consumption patterns are very different, and there is a seven-hour time difference between Russia and the U.S. So you’re going to see all of the games live on our Telemundo networks. You will be able to see all the games streamed live on our Telemundo Deportes app and all of our other digital platforms. You will be able to see content related to the World Cup across all of the new emerging digital platforms that we’re partnering with. We want to make sure that we surround our consumer—both the soccer fanatics as well as the individuals that just come to watch soccer for the World Cup—with a unique experience.

WS: You mentioned investments in infrastructure.
CONDE: About two years ago, we announced that we wanted to build a new headquarters for the Telemundo Enterprises business in South Florida. Fast-forward to today; at the end of January, we began the move into the Telemundo Center. It will be our most forward-leaning facility of the NBCUniversal portfolio—English or Spanish. It’s going to give us the opportunity to put all of our businesses under one roof, which [allows us] to innovate, to collaborate at a faster pace. Hopefully, that will accelerate some of the momentum and the growth that we’ve seen over the last few years. I think the Telemundo Center is going to send a great message—certainly to our employees because we believe in what they’re doing, but also to the industry, to our advertisers, to our distributors and to others—that says we’re putting our money where our mouth is. We’ve invested $250 million in building this facility, and we want people to know that this community not only merits but requires this type of investment.

WS: What is the role of Telemundo’s news in serving the Hispanic community?
CONDE: One of the most sacred responsibilities that we have in the media business and the broadcast- television business, in particular, is the journalism and information that we provide to our community. The issues that are being debated right now in Washington, D.C., and throughout the different state capitals are the issues that matter most to Latinos, day in and day out: education, jobs, the economy, healthcare reform and of course, immigration reform. Those of us in the Hispanic media industry have a unique responsibility to make sure that we’re providing as much information, as much access to resources in the most objective way, so that our community can be well-informed and make good decisions for themselves and their families. There is a tremendous hunger among the Hispanic community for accurate information. Our network news team, led by Luis Fernández, has the tagline “Las cosas como son,” which means we’re going to tell it how it is, and that’s made a very strong connection with our audience; so much so that we’re the only network newscast—English or Spanish—that grew last year. It’s our responsibility to step up in Hispanic media more than ever, and we’re going to continue to do it.

WS: You are also chairman of NBCUniversal International Group. What businesses does that group include?
CONDE: We do three primary things: we sell and distribute our television and film IP, English and Spanish, across all languages, not only outside of the U.S. but this past year we consolidated that with our domestic distribution business, so we do that globally now. Second, we manage and program the NBCUniversal portfolio of networks outside of the U.S. Third, our NBCUniversal International Studios produces formats, scripted series and the like outside of the U.S. These teams are led by Kevin MacLellan [NBCUniversal’s chairman of global distribution and international]. He’s got an incredible team—Belinda Menendez [the president of NBCUniversal International Television Distribution & Universal Networks International] and so many others. And this is one of our fastest-growing assets at NBCUniversal and Comcast. We have an incredible opportunity here because we’ve seen such demand for premium content, particularly premium content coming from top-notch studios that have a track record of creating great content. We’re seeing demand across the board, not only from different parts of the world but also from different platforms. We have great growth in two regions of the world, Latin America and Asia. I think it speaks to the globalization of our business, and hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to build on that in the years to come.