Browne Moves Up at Telemundo
President/CEO McNamara exits the Spanish-language network
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/10/2005 8:00:00 PM
The new head of Telemundo may be the best candidate for directing the second-place Spanish-language broadcaster's assault on industry heavyweight Univision. He has been the No. 2 at NBC Universal-owned Telemundo for two years.
Don Browne, most recently the network's chief operating officer, took over as president April 8. Former President/CEO Jim McNamara, who had run the network for six years, exited at the end of his contract to pursue TV and film opportunities.
Browne takes over just five weeks before Telemundo makes its upfront pitch to advertisers to spend more on NBC-owned Telemundo. More than $1 billion is at stake in the Hispanic upfront, and Telemundo's mission is simple: persuade more viewers to make the switch.
Taking on Univision and its sister broadcast network Telefutura, Browne says, is a daunting task. “It takes time to change habits and convince people to go away from something they are familiar with,” he says. “But we are chipping away.”
Season-to-date, Univision is averaging an 18.8 rating/30 share in prime time (which Spanish-language broadcasters define as 7-11 p.m.) among Hispanic households, versus Telemundo's 5.7/9. Telefutura is pacing at a 3.4/5. Telemundo is growing, with prime time ratings up 3.6% over last season's, but Univision is improving, too, with ratings up 11.2%, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Controlling its programming pipeline is key to Telemundo's strategy. Univision takes most of its fare, including wildly popular novellas, from Mexican broadcaster Televisa. To counter-program, Telemundo has ratcheted up original production, creating U.S.-based novellas and co-producing some shows in Latin America.
Before NBC ponied up $2.7 billion for the network in 2001, Telemundo languished under several owners, including Sony and Liberty. With jointly owned networks, backers are happy to take money out but reluctant to pour much in. “Investments are for return,” says McNamara, “and eventually, you want to realize that investment.”
In contrast, McNamara says, GE and NBC have plowed both time and money into the network. “It was clear they believed in Telemundo and the potential of the Spanish-language market,” he says.
The synergies play out on-air and behind the scenes. NBC tripled Telemundo's prime time budget to $60 million the first year. NBC News helps elevate Telemundo's news operation, and Telemundo shows get plugged on the network and at Universal theme parks. Telemundo aired last summer's Athens Olympics, the first time the games have been broadcast in the U.S. in Spanish. Even Telemundo-owned stations benefited. In cities where both NBC and Telemundo own stations, such as Miami and San Francisco, the stations have combined operations.
Media buyers say Telemundo has made great strides, but there is still room for improvement. “Telemundo has great ideas, but eventually, Univision reproduces them better,” says Raquel Tomasino, executive VP/director of media and strategic services for Hispanic-media buyer Castells & Associados. “It is not because Univision's productions are better but they have the equity with the Hispanic market.”
Browne has deep roots with Telemundo and NBC. He joined Telemundo in 2003 and helped guide the network and its stable of stations through the NBC acquisition. He had arrived from NBC-owned WTVJ Miami, where he was president/GM, and had a long run at NBC News, rising to the post of executive VP.
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