Telemundo Maps Out Local Strategy

Group president Abud addresses unique needs of Spanish-language viewers

Manuel Abud took over as Telemundo Station Group president last Jan. 1. Formerly the general manager at KXTX Dallas, Abud now oversees the 14 owned Telemundo stations. He spent the first half of the year traveling the country, visiting each station and helping the management refine Telemundo's local presence.

Abud, who recently relocated to Miami, spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about what he is doing for Telemundo's owned stations and affiliates.

How were all those visits?
It's been a great six months. And I can tell you, 100,000 American airlines miles later, that it is very, very exciting to have visited every single station and every single general manager. I had the advantage of being at the station group over 10 years, running stations myself, so I had a very good sense of what I would be finding. It's been a great, intense six months.

Telemundo committed last year to adding 1,000 hours of local news and public affairs programming. How is that coming?
We've exceeded that. We launched weekend news in New York and Dallas, evening news in Puerto Rico and Houston. We've expanded some newscasts; in Puerto Rico, we added an hour a day. We will launch a 6 a.m. news in New York in the fourth quarter. We are committed to local news, regardless of the FCC pledge.

What words describe a Telemundo-owned station?
A very close connection with the community. We establish a different relationship with our audience than the general market stations, because the needs in the community are so vast that they see us as the lifeline, not only the provider of news. It's a responsibility we take very seriously; all my general managers are fully committed to their communities. It's not only the right thing to do, but it's good business sense.

Might Telemundo buy or sell stations?
Improving and expanding our distribution are high priorities, not necessarily buying stations. Enhancing our relationship with our current affiliates is my priority. Emilio [Romano, president of Telemundo Media] has charged me with making sure our affiliates are fully supported regardless of who owns the station-we treat them the same way whether they're owned by us or owned by someone else. I'll also be channeling some resources and attention to our affiliates to provide better support to their local news and their community engagement.

Do all the owned stations have local news?
Yes. It's part of the multimillion-dollar investment we're doing over the next five years, to make sure everyone has what we call the full offering: Two evening newscasts, the morning newscast and weekend newscasts. We have a full road map for the next five years to put all the stations on that level.

Any surprises during your tour of the stations?
Not really. We have a great team and it's very refreshing to see the team so engaged and so excited.

Where are you based?
Miami-I'm actually just making the move. Being in Miami is also part of the strategy to make sure the stations and the network are working together.

What has Comcast's ownership meant for the group?
Comcast has been a terrific partner for us. They're very committed and supportive of NBCUniversal in general and Telemundo in particular. I think it's been a great experience so far. They have made clear through their investments that they are fully committed to us.

Telemundo has new competition from MundoFox. What do you make of Fox's new Spanish-language network?
What do they say about imitation being the best form of flattery? I always respect new ideas being put on the table. I think they prove we are doing something right and they validate our formula. We've been developing our relationship with our audience on the local level for so many years; it's not a plan that's easily stolen. I feel very comfortable that we have such a relationship with our audience on the local level that we'll be OK.

Will competing against MundoFox make the Telemundo stations work harder to produce news, sell better, etc.?
It's hard to tell what is going to be their local strategy-there's no visibility of that. I happen to know their flagship very well, KWHY Los Angeles-I used to run that station. I know its strengths and weaknesses, I know very well that it is positioned to be as strong, if not stronger, than it has been in the past.

What's your biggest concern out of Washington?
We have a lot of things on our plate [in terms of looking] at ways to better connect with the audience. I'm familiar with the issues in Washington; I'm a former member of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, and my concern is no different than any other--broadcast spectrum and the usual issues. But right now I'm focused internally on our company and serving our clients.

What are the Telemundo stations doing for the election season?
One of our initiatives is Vota Por Tu Futuro, Vote for Your Future. We promote participation in voting and voter registration among our communities. We always provide news in an unbiased, journalistically sound way to inform and empower people.

Will the group offer mobile DTV in the near term?
Yes. We look at any possible new platform of distribution, but my first priority is to strengthen the content. It doesn't matter how many platforms you have if you don't have the right content.

How does the political spend at the Spanish-language stations compare to the general market stations?
Unfortunately we still have work ahead of us in terms of getting to the level of spending that the general market has seen. That's why our competitors and us work very hard together in terms of making the political campaigns aware of the importance of [the Hispanic vote]. We've seen some progress. We have work ahead of us, but we see improvement over previous campaigns.

How do you make the case that they should spend more on Spanish-language stations?
The demographics of the census-the hard numbers speak for themselves. It's really a matter of reading the numbers and showing them the composition of the market.

Do you miss working at just one station?
No, I'm loving it. I really love my job and it is a great time to be here. We have the full commitment of our owners and my bosses have been extremely supportive in investing in the stations.

We've made great inroads in terms of fully deploying our HD signals across the stations. We did a great deal with DirecTV to have 22 stations on their HD platform. At the local level, we are fully energized with our new leadership and are making a lot of investments and working together with NBC and the leadership at their station group. We are very closely partnered with [NBC Owned Stations President] Valari Staab and take some best practices from them when applicable. I really think that broadcast and the local stations are in a good place right now.

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