How the Census Will Change Your Business: A Q&A With Telemundo's Don Browne
The 2010 Census will confirm what Telemundo President Don Browne has known all along—the Latin community is an economic force to be reckoned with.
By Marisa Guthrie -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/21/2010 12:01:00 AM
The 2010 Census is expected to show that the Hispanic population has grown by 40% in 10 years, accounting for half of the total U.S. population growth during the decade. Those are pretty pronounced numbers, yet marketing budgets are still overwhelmingly focused on non-Hispanic consumers. When is marketing psychology going to catch up with the numbers?
The fact is that a lot of people have been talking about this for a long time. But a lot of people have not been acting on this almost $1.3 billion of economic power that is about to explode. But I think that for the first time in a really manifested way, we’re seeing a consciousness about this at a level that we’ve never seen before. In the upfront process and in client development meetings that we’re having, there is much more awareness, much more of a commitment, much more of an understanding that things are changing now. And post-2010 Census, they will be moving very quickly.
Probably the single fastest way to grow any business is to understand and embrace this growth. And if you don’t, it’s at your own peril. So, we’re seeing enlightened, smart decision-makers beginning to understand and jump on board. And I think it bodes really well if you’re in the Hispanic business. But I think it also bodes really well for the general market also becoming much more aware of the need to be speaking to this audience.
How have the Census and the presumed realignment of the Nielsen sample affected your upfront?
There’s a very clear understanding. Every agency that we’ve talked to is probably more aware of the opportunity than they’ve ever been before. And not only are they aware, but they’re willing to act on it. This also comes at a time when we’re seeing a real clear indication of an economic recovery. So, three things are converging: the best, most focused awareness of this opportunity; the willingness to act on it; and economics that are favorable for acting on it. It’s one thing to understand the opportunity, but it’s quite another to have a budget to take advantage of it.
How important is Nielsen’s realignment of the household sample? Have you had conversations with them? And what do you expect the impact on Spanish-language television ratings will be?
It’s obviously inevitable that there are going to be more meters placed where the growth areas are. And the greatest area of growth will undoubtedly be Hispanics. I think it bodes very well for national growth, but also the local television stations will be seeing that growth because there will be more meters to measure more Hispanics.
There have been long-standing complaints that the Nielsen sample does not properly measure minorities. Are you satisfied with Nielsen?
We’d like to see more resources being dedicated to making an effort to measure that growth accurately, and I think they are well aware that they are going to have to redirect resources. If there’s a segment of the population that the Census indicates is growing this dramatically, we should be seeing that reflected [in the] Nielsen [sample]. We’re encouraging them to allocate the resources they need to make sure they get into these areas. All we want is an even playing field. And part of that is making sure that as the Hispanic population grows, that they redirect their resources to make sure these numbers are being reflected. It’s something that they want to do. And we’re encouraging them to do it quickly because this is going to be a significant part of everyone’s business.
Comcast/NBC Universal recently announced a slew of diversity initiatives, including a Latino advisory council, a $7 million increase in ad spending on minority-owned media, a Spanish language movies-on-demand channel and executive training programs aimed at minorities. I would think that Telemundo and mun2 would be a linchpin in so many of those initiatives. How are your networks involved in that?
I’m glad you brought that up. So, let’s talk about diversity, which is one of my favorite subjects. When NBC bought Telemundo, the president, the COO, the CFO, the head of the TV station group, the head of network news, the head of network sales were all non-Hispanic. That’s pretty amazing, huh? How does it look post-NBC? In every one of those positions, not only are they all Hispanic, but they’re some of the top executives in the country who happen to be Hispanic. So, we’re not dealing with remedial programs. These are some of the best people in the world.
In addition to that, when [NBC] bought the company we did not have studios and, of course, the president of our studios is Hispanic. And mun2 is a significant cable property overseen by our COO, Jackie Hernández, who is one of the leading media executives in the world who happens to be Hispanic.
My point is, if you look at Telemundo post-NBC in terms of diversity, the quality of the talent and leadership, it is an entirely different company than it was before the sale. We hardly produced anything before. But now with our studios, we are the second-largest content company in the world. And we are able to fulfill many of the things that Comcast wants to accomplish in serving a larger community. So, we’re very excited about the position we’re in to support everything that Comcast and NBCU are talking about. It’s really pretty amazing for the one gringo that everybody puts up with—that would be me. We’ve got a pretty amazing team.
Diversity is a convenient poster child for Washington, however well intentioned. Do you think that Telemundo and mun2 aren’t recognized by the diversity police in D.C.?
It just drives me crazy. We go to Washington and people don’t even know our story. I have always believed [diversity] happens to be good business. We are just surprised at how few people really understand what we have done. Mun2 was a little joke six years ago; now it’s a huge bilingual, bicultural organization run by bilingual, bicultural Hispanics. We created those studios. There was no place for Spanish actors, writers, directors, set designers in the novella world. Everybody would buy [programming] offshore. But the studio system has produced hundreds of jobs for the [Spanish-language] creative community in the U.S. that did not exist before.
Jeff Zucker convinced me to take the job [at Telemundo] in the first place. He has been my wingman. And everything we’ve done here, he has supported. He grew up in a Spanish-dominant community in Miami. He actually speaks Spanish. That’s really important because that’s where the rubber hits the road: the corporate executive commitment to this space.
Sometimes I think Washington wields the diversity issue like a club.
There’s no question. Telling the story that Jeff should be able to tell is not convenient, it’s off the script. What he did with a Spanish-language company on his watch is a great story that no one’s really told very well.
They don’t like mergers in Washington.
Right, but here’s my point: I know everyone likes to beat up on big corporations, but God only knows what would have happened to Telemundo if NBC and GE hadn’t bought it. We were able to transform ourselves with a tremendous infusion of investments. If you look at the diversity of our leadership today versus when we bought the company, it’s really quite an extraordinary story.
But when NBC first bought Telemundo, news operations were centralized. More recently, there’s been a new commitment to localism. What’s driving that?
The general business of media is changing dramatically. Everyone is trying to figure it out. And in the process of trying to figure it out, people have gone through trial and error. It wasn’t unique to Telemundo; every news organization in the world has been trying to deal with the economics.
I am a news person first and foremost. I’ve run networks, and I’ve run local television stations. We had to make some adjustments to tough economics and even tougher economics. But I was able to hire Ron Gordon, who is running our stations group, and now Ramon Escobar [who’s now executive VP of network news]. I’m a passionate believer in localism. I’m a believer in news as the first line in serving your community, informing it, empowering it. Somebody didn’t call up and say, this is what you must do. This is what we believe we must do. So, we are beginning to reinvest in localism and go back to the future because it is the front line of serving the community, and that begins in our local markets. We’re reversing the trend, and frankly it’s already paying off.
How will the Census impact decision-making in the general market?
As they see the data and the statistics, they’ll realize they’re going to have to reach out to this audience as well, and whether it’s acculturated, bicultural or bilingual, the general market will increasingly have to deal with creating content that’s relevant to those markets.
Is there still a pronounced bifurcation between acculturated second and third generations, and first-generation Hispanics who have traditionally been Spanish-dominant?
There’s an attitudinal change that’s manifesting itself in all our research. It’s cool to be Hispanic. The urge to acculturate is not as important or as fast as it’s been because in the Hispanic culture, there’s much more of a positive identity about being Hispanic.
This isn’t always about language. In fact, it’s always about culture. In Hispanic media, we are speaking to the culture. Even if you’re acculturated, the type of humor, the stories that we tell, the way we tell them and the co-viewing— where first and second and third generations watch TV together—the content we produce is very relatable, including news, because we’re dealing primarily with the issues that affect the lives of Hispanics living in the U.S. The general market touches on that ever so slightly because it’s appealing to [a general audience]. So, even if you’re acculturated, there is a cultural relevance that will resonate with all Hispanics.
The other thing that people don’t talk about very much is that the quality of the content at Spanishlanguage networks is now of general-market quality. Whether it’s HD or the quality of productions, we’re all on a much more even playing field. That’s important. Quality is critical in this very competitive landscape.
E-mail comments firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
Excellent interview Marisa, congratulations. As an Bilingual Recruiting Consultant, specializing in the recruitment and placement of bilingual professionals (English and Spanish), I have been promoting the advantages of hiring professionals that are not only bilingual, but also bicultural. The way I see it, you get two for the price of one.
Glad to see that the numbers will show that those companies/organization that continue to ignore the Latino buying power will have a hard time growing.
Nelson A. De Leon - 6/21/2010 10:33:02 AM EDT
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