Earlier this summer, something remarkable happened at Telemundo, the Spanish-language TV network that for decades trailed behind archrival Univision in both audience reach and overall popularity: Night after night, it began posting record-breaking ratings until eventually, during the week of July 18, it became the No. 1 Spanish-language broadcast network for the first time in its history, per Nielsen.
The milestone was significant for a company that for years had struggled to break loose of the stigma of being “the other network,” “the No. 2.” But it was also the culmination of something much larger: A years-long strategy of investing some serious money in what Telemundo — and parent NBCUniversal — now call a redefinition of Hispanic media. That’s no easy chore in a media landscape dominated by cord-cutters, and the quick rewards of “information” delivered by the likes of Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook.
“We started investing heavily a while back,” said César Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, who joined the media juggernaut in October 2013. “It started with the rights [to the] FIFA [World Cup] and it continues today. We are investing in content that Latinos had not seen before. And the results are there for all to see.”
He means this quite literally. Conde’s vision for a “New Telemundo” includes the 2018 completion of its new global headquarters, a $250 million state-of-the-art facility in South Florida that is expected to house 1,100 employees and bring all of the company’s broadcast, cable and digital operations under one huge roof, including the Telemundo Network, Telemundo Studios and Telemundo International, as well as cable network NBC Universo and its digital media operations. “Visualize it for one second,” Conde said, without hiding his excitement at the possibilities.
Conde, a 42-year-old Miami native who also serves on the executive committee of NBCUniversal, will receive the 2016 Award for Executive Leadership in Hispanic Television & Video from Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable on Thursday, Oct. 20, at the 14th annual Hispanic Television Summit in New York.
A STAR IS BORN
The son of a Peruvian dad and a Cuban mother (both doctors), Conde grew up in Miami and attended the prestigious Belén Jesuit Preparatory School before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors at Harvard University and an M.B.A. at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The eldest of three brothers, Conde’s start in media came during the heady days of the dot-coms, serving as VP of business development at StarMedia Network in New York, the first Internet company focusing on Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking audiences, where he had been an intern.
“We were so lucky to have him back,” recalled Fernando Espuelas, then CEO of Star-Media, who recruited Conde after he graduated from Wharton. “César quickly became a star within the company.”
Conde packed his bags again in 2002, this time bound for Washington, D.C., where he spent a full year as a White House Fellow under Secretary of State Colin Powell, part of a nonpartisan program in which young men and women gain first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government.
In 2003, he joined Univision and spent a decade moving up the executive ranks. He was promoted to executive VP and chief strategy officer in 2007, reporting to then-CEO Joe Uva, and was ultimately appointed president of Univision Networks. Under Conde, Univision became the No. 1 U.S. network regardless of language for the first time in its 50-year history and grew from three to 12 broadcast and cable networks.
It was also at Univision where he met Pamela Silva, an up-and-coming Peruvian-born journalist whom he married in 2009. (Silva, who changed her name to Pamela Silva Conde, is still at Univision as co-anchor of daily newsmagazine Primer Impacto.)
FROM ‘CESAR’ TO ‘CÉSAR’ AND BACK AGAIN
A fruitful 10-year tenure at Univision came to an end in October 2013, when Conde was hired as executive vice president of NBCUniversal, a newly created role in which he was to oversee NBCU International and NBCU Digital Enterprises, reporting directly to CEO Steve Burke. As before, the young executive quickly rose up the ranks and, two years later he became chairman, NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, his current role.
“I cannot think of a more deserving person than César for the Executive Leadership in Hispanic Television & Video Award,” said David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast, in an email in which he also referred to Telemundo as “one of the crown jewels of the NBCUniversal family.”
Despite Conde’s many academic and professional accomplishments and his meteoric rise to the executive board, he is described by friends, family and acquaintances as a kind, humble family man who tries to spend his limited amount of free time with his family and as someone who essentially hasn’t changed since he was very young.
“I have known César for many years, and he has never changed,” said Jorge Plasencia, CEO of Republica, a Miami-based cross-cultural ad agency that has worked with NBCUniversal’s theme parks since 2009; in 2014, it took on additional duties as agency of record for Telemundo Enterprises. “He is the same great guy today that he has always been: steadfast to his family, to his friends and to his community.”
Unlike many media executives in the so-called general market, Conde has a unique talent that leaves friends and colleagues in awe: He is able to move in and out of the Hispanic — and non-Hispanic — worlds, transitioning with ease from English to Spanish, and sometimes even Spanglish. As one colleague who preferred to remain anonymous said, “He can be Cesar and then switch back to being César — with a Latin accent.”
Such talent, however, seems to come not from the prestigious schools and institutions where Conde completed his education and furthered his career, but from something more endearing.
“My parents taught me to be very proud of my heritage,” Conde said. “I am just extremely lucky to work here, in a place where I can combine my passion for the media with a passion for my community.”