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A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Telemundo is leaning on new live events, a major investment in sports, a new generation of faster-paced telenovelas, high-concept reality shows and an increase in star power to help close a ratings gap with Univision.
Bulking up on live special events, the Spanish-language broadcaster has secured licensing rights from Dick Clark Productions to produce a Spanish-language version of the American Music Awards for fall 2015.
While details are still being worked out, Joe Uva, NBCUniversal chairman of Hispanic enterprises and content, says that Telemundo will produce the annual shows (and red-carpet preshows), which will feature top music stars from Latin America, the Caribbean and other Spanish-speaking regions.
Separately, Telemundo has also extended its deal with Billboard (which, like DCP, is a THR sister company) for an additional four years to keep its Latin Music Awards through 2020.
“Billboard is thrilled to continue our relationship with Telemundo as they have been wonderful ambassadors for our brand over the last 25 years,” says John Amato, co-president of Billboard and THR.
Both moves are part of owner Comcast’s multimillion-dollar investment to ramp up original content for Telemundo and the cable network Mun2, including better integration with other NBCU properties and a major investment in sports.
“Comcast and NBCUniversal have invested and put their money where their mouth is,” says Uva. “The first thing they did was go out and acquire the rights to the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.”
For decades, the wildly popular World Cup has been broadcast to Hispanics in the U.S. on Univision, the network which has attracted the largest Spanish-language audience in North America for many years — typically about twice as many viewers on average as Telemundo.
Univision paid a reported $325 million for the last two World Cup cycles and was a bidder again for the future games. However, when the auction for rights by FIFA ended, the winner was Comcast and Telemundo with a reported bid of $600 million.
The FIFA package is not just for games every four years either. Beginning this fall, Telemundo will be the exclusive broadcast home in the U.S. for the Women’s World Cup, the Men’s Under-17 World Cup, the Beach World Cup and other games and events.
Telemundo has also acquired rights to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying matches. As part of the Comcast/Olympics deal, Telemundo and Mun2 will both carry soccer and other sports from Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020.
Telemundo and Mun2 will also share in the new NFL contract kicking off this fall, with select games during the regular season and playoffs as well as the Super Bowl. The video will be simulcast with NBC but the graphics and announcers will be specifically catered to the Spanish-language audience. Telemundo will also have rights to the Spanish-language broadcast of NASCAR races, including some that take place in Mexico.
“My mandate is to drive and improve these assets domestically and to stimulate new international growth,” says Uva, “and to integrate Telemundo better into the fabric of NBCUniversal and help inform content decisions being made across the NBCU portfolio.”
To that end, Telemundo has begun finding success with spinoffs or versions of the top shows on NBC and various Comcast cable networks.
Nowhere has this success been more pronounced than with La Voz Kids, which is The Voice for Hispanic singers from ages 7 to 15, who compete for a recording contract and cash prizes to pay for their education. Hosted by Daisy Fuentes and Jorge Bernal, La Voz Kids second season, which ended June 8, ranked as No. 1 among all Spanish-language broadcasts on that Sunday night with over 2.6 million viewers. The next cycle will run from March through June of 2015.
In reality TV, Top Chef Estrellas — inspired by Bravo’s Top Chef — will return for a second season, hosted by Ingrid Hoffmann with Hispanic chefs Lorena Garcia, Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu as judges. The show, produced by Magic Elves, will expand from four to eight episodes for its second season.
There is no question the key to success in Spanish-language TV in the U.S. is telenovelas, the soapy long-form dramas that have made Univision a powerhouse for years by reairing shows created by Televisa in Mexico.
Telemundo has its own take on telenovelas, airing several in the traditional format (languidly paced, from 60 to 200 episodes) but also bringing out what it considers the next generation of the genre.
At 10 p.m. each weeknight, Telemundo airs what it calls “Super Series,” which are telenovelas with faster pacing that air fewer episodes. Set to premiere this fall is Señora Acero, with Mexican star Blanca Soto, about a woman who goes from being a housemaid to becoming (almost by accident after her husband is killed) the queen of organized crime. (Soto is just one of the stars recruited to join Telemundo and Mun2. Others include actress/singer Lucero, who will host an upcoming musical competition, Aracely Arambula, Kate del Castillo and Laura Flores.)
Uva says they have done extensive research on their audience and found there is a “voracious appetite among the U.S. Hispanic population for faster-paced, shorter-episode series.”
These Super Series have been running for two years at 10 p.m., and Uva says they have increased their share of the 18- to 49-year-old audience in that time period from 19 to 28 percent of available viewers.
Telemundo has also granted an option to sister USA Network to develop an English-language version of Señora Acero and to NBCUniversal Entertainment to develop a version of El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies), the networks highest-rated telenovela last season.
Uva joined NBCU in April 2013 after serving as president and CEO of Univision Communications from 2007 through 2011. Before that he spent 17 years at Turner Broadcasting, where he was president of sales and marketing.
“Comcast has a foothold in the fastest-growing demographic segment in America — the Hispanic community,” says Uva, “These are assets that had been under performing and suffered from underinvestment under prior ownerships.”
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