Entertainment Industry

Category: Spanish-language Television

Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa to expand TV partnership


Santa Monica-based independent studio Lionsgate and Mexico's programming powerhouse Grupo Televisa are expanding their budding partnership with a new venture that aims to create television shows for English-language audiences.

The move continues a trend of major media companies in the U.S. looking south to Latin America for programming concepts and business partners. Earlier this week, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. said it planned to launch a new broadcast network this fall in collaboration with Colombian broadcaster RCN. 

Companies -- and advertisers -- are becoming increasingly interested in capitalizing on the growing clout of Latino consumers. They make up the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S.

Lionsgate and Televisa -- Mexico's largest media company -- said Tuesday that their new unit would tackle six to eight TV projects a year. The plan is to mine story lines from Televisa's vast vault of wildly popular telenovelas and adapt them into English-language comedies and dramas for U.S. broadcast networks and cable channels. Executives also intend to develop original concepts for scripted and unscripted shows.

The two companies first went into business in 2010 with a joint venture called Pantelion Films. Its purpose is to acquire and distribute feature films that appeal to Latinos in the U.S. 

The parties declined to disclose financial terms of their new TV arrangement. The soon-to-be-named venture will be managed by Paul Presburger, chief executive of Pantelion Films. Presburger helped put the TV entity together with Lionsgate on behalf of Televisa.

Televisa separately has an equity stake in Univision Communications, the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S. Televisa's programming fuels the prime-time ratings on the flagship Univision network, helping to build it into the nation's fifth most popular network.

A handful of projects already are in development for English-language programmers, including a comedic adaptation of Pantelion's first film, "From Prada to Nada." The firm is working on a scripted drama for ABC based on Televisa's smash hit "Soy Tu Duena." The new show will be called "Badlands."  Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC Studios is collaborating on the series.

Until now, little of Televisa's programming was accessible to mainstream audiences. The new development, unveiled at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention in Miami, followed Univision's announcement that it would begin adding English-language subtitles through closed caption to its prime-time telenovelas


Venezuelan TV shows hope to make it in Hollywood

Univision telenovelas with a twist:  English subtitles

Nickelodeon makes telenovela grab with Reach for a Star

-- Meg James

Photo: Actors Fernando Colunga and Lucero in Televisa's telenovela "Soy Tu Duena," which produced huge ratings in the U.S. for the Univision network. Credit: Antonio Uribe / Univision



Hulu launches Latino service with Spanish-language programming


Hoping to attract a rapidly growing U.S. Latino audience, online video site Hulu has launched a Spanish-language programming service with popular shows from networks Univision, Estrella TV and Azteca America.

Until now, Spanish-language programming has been scattered across different Internet sites. And some of the most popular programs, including the spicy telenovelas produced by Grupo Televisa of Mexico, were not available online in the U.S. 

Hulu -- which has ramped up its offerings this year -- saw an opportunity.

"The demographics of the U.S. Latino audience are very interesting to us, and until now there was so little Spanish-language content available online in an aggregated form," said Andy Forssell, senior vice president of content at Hulu, based in Santa Monica.

The U.S. Latino population is the nation's fastest growing demographic group. The median age of the Latino audience also is younger than that of the general market, which has helped to attract blue-chip advertisers who prefer younger viewers. 

The Hulu Latino service is being sponsored by five Hulu advertisers: Corona, Modelo, Toyota, Pantene, and Volkswagen of America.

Advertisers and Hulu, owned by media companies Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and NBCUniversal, are particularly interested in reaching bilingual viewers who watch programming in English and Spanish. They believe a large percentage of that audience can be found online.

Hulu has spent the last few months negotiating agreements with 11 Spanish-language content partners, including Univision, the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S., and other Latin American media companies.

Spanish-language programming will be available on the free Hulu site and through the Hulu Plus subscription service. Hulu Plus will offer hundreds of hours of current and classic shows, including entire seasons of the enormously popular telenovelas, including those produced by Televisa, Venevision and RCTV of Venezuela.

Much of Univision's programming has been slow to arrive online because the company did not have the online rights to the popular telenovelas produced by Televisa until late last year. Two months ago, Univision announced its arrangement to provide its programming to Hulu.

The Hulu Latino service launched Tuesday. Users of the free Hulu service will have access to several episodes of current season programming, including recent episodes of such Univision shows as  telenovela "La Fuerza del Destino" (The Power of Destiny), newsmagazine "Aqui y Ahora" (Here and Now) and late night talk show "Noche de Perros" (Guys' Night Out).

Hulu has rolled out several new offerings this year, including a service in Japan in September. It also has been working to bolster its library with foreign programming including Japanese anime, Korean dramas, and British television programs, including "Misfits" and "Mongrels."


Univision to distribute its top programs online through Hulu

CW network to offer new TV episodes on Hulu

Hulu to launch in Japan

-- Meg James

Photo: Actors from "La Fuerza del Destino," which airs on Univision in the U.S. Credit: Univision Communications

NBCUniversal taps Emilio Romano as Telemundo president

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

NBCUniversal has hired Emilio Romano, a long-time media and airline executive, to run its Spanish-language television network Telemundo and cable channel mun2.

He replaces longtime Telemundo president Don Browne, who retired last spring. Browne had been a top manager within Telemundo since NBC acquired the network in 2002. 

EmilioRomano Romano, who takes the reins in October, comes aboard at a time when the stakes are high for Telemundo. After Comcast Corp. took over NBCUniversal this year, it singled out the Spanish-language operation as an area that should improve its second-run status to achieve substantial growth.

The media company reached outside its ranks in selecting Romano, who has worked as an airline executive and a manager within the Mexico City-based television behemoth Grupo Televisa. 

Romano served as chief executive of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion from 2004-2007, and was responsible for the airline’s largest financial restructuring in its 87-year history. NBCUniversal also said he organized the launch of Click Mexicana, the first low-cost carrier in Mexico, and engineered the sale of Mexicana de Aviacion to an investor group.

“His extensive knowledge of Hispanic media combined with a proven track record running large-scale businesses will be a great addition to the Telemundo management team," his new boss, Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment and Digital Networks and Integrated Media, said in a statement.

"We will benefit greatly from his expertise across multiple media platforms -- particularly in the Mexican market -- as we continue to broaden Telemundo’s overall appeal in the vibrant and diverse Hispanic community.”

Telemundo has long struggled trying to appeal to Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants who make up two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population. The network's strength has largely been among Hispanics on the East Coast, whereas Telemundo's rival Univision Communications has been the dominant force reaching the huge population of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. 

Univision has an advantage in the U.S. Spanish-language media industry because of its lucrative partnership with Televisa. Since the early 1990s, Univision has depended on the low-cost soap operas called telenovelas that Televisa produces in Mexico to fuel its gigantic prime-time ratings.  Univision is now the fifth largest television network in the U.S., and on some nights beats NBC. 

Telemundo is a much smaller operation. Romano will be in charge of the Telemundo broadcast network and its 14 owned TV stations, including the network's entertainment division and TV studio. He will oversee the network's sales and marketing arm as well as its news and sports divisions. His portfolio includes mun2, the cable channel that targets young bicultural Latinos. 

 "As reflected in the latest U.S. Census and the dramatic increase in both viewership and advertising within the Hispanic community these past few years, this exciting market is well poised for explosive growth," Romano said in the statement.

Early in his career, Romano held various positions within the Mexican Ministry of Finance. A native of Mexico City, he resides in Miami -- where Telemundo is based -- with his wife and two daughters.

Romano worked in the late 1990s as Televisa's director of mergers and acquisitions and later as vice president of international operations with oversight of more than 500  employees.  From 1995 to 1998, he was a member of Univision Communications' board. 

In 2001, he co-founded Border Group LLC, and worked as a consultant to entertainment and media companies.  

[For the Record, 12:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Romano served as chief executive of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion from 2003-2004]

-- Meg James

Photo: Telemundo President Emilio Romano. Credit: NBCUniversal.

NBCUniversal names Beth Roberts to key cable post

One of NBCUniversal's high-powered and well-respected business executives -- Beth Roberts -- has joined Team Hammer.

Roberts on Wednesday was named chief operating officer of Universal Cable Productions, reporting to Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal's Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios unit. Hammer has oversight of several of the media giant's cable channels including USA, Syfy and E!

Beth Roberts - COO Universal Cable Productions The company said in a statement that Roberts will spearhead "the strategic and financial growth of Universal Cable Productions," in addition to overseeing business affairs for the cable channels controlled by Hammer.

Universal Cable Productions has been managed by a committee that includes Mark Stern and Jeff Wachtel, who share the title of co-head of original content; and Jerry DiCanio, head of production, and Roberts. Now she will be in charge of the studio's day-to-day operations.

"As a business affairs executive, Beth has always struck a perfect balance between strategic vision and fiscal discipline," Hammer said in the statement.  "That's exactly what we need to take UCP to the next level, so Beth's new role is an ideal expansion of her responsibilities."

Previously, Roberts served as executive vice president of business affairs for NBCUniversal's large cable portfolio.  Comcast, which took over NBCUniversal in late January, divided the cable properties into two groups, one overseen by Hammer, the longtime head of USA Network and Syfy, and the other group managed by Lauren Zalaznick, who has been responsible for Bravo. Zalaznick was given the more eclectic group, which includes Comcast's digital properties like Fandango and Daily Candy, and Spanish-language network Telemundo.

-- Meg James

Photo of Beth Roberts courtesy of NBCUniversal


Univision to launch three new television channels

Univision4 Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications Inc. plans to launch three new cable television channels next year in a bid to tighten its grip on the growing Latino market and diversify its revenues.

Univision is expected to announce Thursday that one of the channels will offer soccer and other sports, one will be devoted to news and information, and a third will showcase the spicy Spanish-language soap operas, or telenovelas, that fuel Univision Network’s prime-time ratings.

The new channels are part of an increasing trend by media companies to increase their investments in Spanish-language TV. Recently released census findings show that Latinos make up the nation's fastest growing population. Univision already controls nearly 70% of the Spanish-language television market.

New York-based Univision is making an extra effort to flex its market muscle. Major broadcasting groups, including Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, Turner Broadcasting this week have been pitching their fall lineups to hundreds of advertisers in New York in an effort to grab slices of the more than $9 billion  “upfront” advertising market.

Univision will unveil its lineup Thursday.

On some nights, Univision -- the nation's fifth largest television network -- glides past fourth-place NBC and other established broadcast networks among younger demographic groups in the ratings. And unlike the major broadcasters, which are struggling to hold onto their audiences in an increasingly fragmented media universe, Univision's prime-time viewership has increased about 8% from last season.

“The recent census findings has been waking up a lot of our competitors, and advertisers, to the power and the organic growth of the Hispanic marketplace,” Randy Falco, Univision's chief operating officer, said in an interview. “We are actually at a tipping point where advertisers cannot ignore this market any longer.”

The 2010 Census revealed that more than 50 million Latinos live in the U.S., making up 16% of the population. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population grew 43%. In contrast, the segment of people who identified themselves as white, grew 1%, according to the census.

“Every 10 years we get what I call the 'wake-up call’ with the results of the census,” said Carmen Baez, president of Latin American and multicultural marketing with advertising behemoth Omnicom Group Inc. “And this time around, the numbers were so staggering that people just can't ignore it.”

Univision's chief competitor, Telemundo, does not want to get left behind. In late January, Comcast Corp. took control of Telemundo owner NBCUniversal and declared that growing Telemundo revenues was a priority. NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke unexpectedly tapped the company's marketing whiz, Lauren Zalaznick, to oversee Telemundo and the company's youth-oriented cable channel mun2.

Zalaznick, a former film producer who helped build the Bravo cable channel into a cultural force,  greeted advertisers who attended Telemundo's programming presentation Tuesday night -- in Spanish. She said she was happy to join the crowd.

“Estoy muy feliz de estar aqui con ustedes,” Zalaznick said before switching to her native tongue. “Two months ago I could not have said one of those words in Spanish. I've learned a lot since then.”

Telemundo, which is based in Miami, dubbed its Latino market awareness campaign “the shift,” acknowledging the change in the complexion of the nation as well as the cultural influence of Latinos.

“It is the shift -- the landscape is shifting right before our very eyes,” Baez said. “But while Hispanics make up 16% of the population, Hispanic media only captures 4% of the advertising dollars spent in the U.S. We need to do a better job.”

For Univision, expanding its share of the advertising pie and its portfolio of Spanish-language channels is a corporate mandate. In 2007, Los Angeles billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio sold Univision to a group of private investors, including another L.A. billionaire, Haim Saban, for nearly $14 billion. The transaction -- at the top of the market -- left Univision burdened with debt. Within a few months, the recession hit and advertising spending plummeted.

With the new cable channels, Univision's goal is to establish a more stable source of revenue -- cable affiliate fees -- to reduce its reliance on advertising. Univision already has two broadcast networks, Univision and TeleFutura; a popular cable channel, Galavision; and a vibrant chain of TV and radio stations.

Univision has dramatically improved its fortunes over the last year, restructuring its debt and resolving a long-running feud with its Mexican programming partner, Grupo Televisa. Televisa produces the popular Mexican telenovelas that have been key to Univision's prime-time success. About 65% of the U.S. Latino population is made up of people of Mexican descent. The new agreement gives Televisa equity in Univision and guarantees Univision its pipeline of soaps.

Univision, in addition to expanding its own in-house production studio, plans to dip into Televisa's vast library to fill the proposed telenovela channel.

“The beauty of the Televisa library is that it is big and deep,” said Cesar Conde, president of the Univision networks. “And we are going to continue to develop our own original programs to complement the Televisa brand.”


News on Fall television schedules, renewals and cancellations

 -- Meg James

Photo: The exterior of Univision's Los Angeles headquarters. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

Don Browne, president of NBCUniversal's Telemundo network, retires

Telemundo President Don Browne is stepping down, clearing the way for his new bosses at NBCUniversal to make sweeping changes to the Spanish-language television operation.

Browne, who turns 68 next month, plans to leave the company June 3 -- the eight anniversary of his arrival at Telemundo after a distinguished career in NBC News. Browne joined NBC in 1979 as NBC News' Miami bureau chief. He eventually became a top executive within NBC News, and later served as general manager of WTVJ, NBC's owned-and-operated station in Miami.

Don Browne NBCUniversal said it would announce a new Telemundo president "in the coming months."

The architect of Telemundo's entry into the business of original programming, Browne wanted to end the network's reliance on foreign studios for its prime-time shows.  Browne oversaw the construction of a small TV production center in Hialeah, Fla., just outside of Miami. In recent months, the network has grown its ratings on the strength of its original telenovela, "La Reina del Sur."

However, despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars in original programming over the years, the NBCUniversal-owned Spanish-language network has struggled to make headway in the market. It is dwarfed by its more potent rival, Univision Communications Inc., which obtains most of its popular prime-time soap operas, or telenovelas, from its Mexican programming partner, Grupo Televisa.  Univision has a substantial advantage because its telenovelas -- which have already played on TV in Mexico --  are cheaper to acquire and have a track record. Univision schedules the programs that generated big ratings in Mexico and appeal to the large Mexican American population in the U.S.

When Comcast Corp. took control of NBCUniversal in January, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal's new chief, Steve Burke, said they wanted Telemundo to produce stronger ratings and, thus, more revenue for the company.

Browne was assigned a new supervisor, Lauren Zalaznick, who is dramatically different from the suit-and-tie bosses that Browne had before. Instead of giving Browne autonomy to run his business, Zalaznick was determined to get involved, even taking Spanish lessons and spending days immersing herself in Telemundo's operations in South Florida and Los Angeles.

Since 2005, Browne has been responsible for all of Telemundo's business and programming functions, including running Telemundo's 14 owned-and-operated television stations, including KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Los Angeles. He also managed Telemundo's news and sports operations and its youth-oriented cable channel, mun2.

NBCUniversal said Browne was "an early and fervent supporter of NBC's investment in Spanish-language television and played a key role in the company's 2001 acquisition of Telemundo."

"Don Browne has had an outstanding career as a broadcaster and executive, from his years as a bureau chief and executive vice president of NBC News to his tenure most recently at Telemundo," Burke said in a statement Tuesday announcing Browne's retirement.  "We are grateful for what he has accomplished."

-- Meg James

Photo: Don Browne. Credit: Telemundo / NBCUniversal


Management shakeup continues at Univision

A week after being promoted to a high-profile position within the nation's largest Spanish-language media company, longtime sales executive Peter Lazarus has stepped down.

A Univision spokeswoman on Tuesday confirmed that Lazarus was "no longer with the company."  The company provided no other details.

Lazarus was named the company's executive vice president for sales strategy for new networks on March 22.  He joined Univision three years ago, coming from IMG Sports and Entertainment, where he served as senior vice president for sales and business development.  Before that, Lazarus spent nearly a decade at NBC Universal, where he worked in several sales and marketing posts and oversaw advertising sales for NBC's coverage of the 2004 and 2006 Olympics. At that time, Lazarus worked with Univision's chief operating officer Randy Falco, who was then in charge of revenue operations at NBC Universal.

This is not the first high-profile departure this month for the New York-based Univision. Two weeks ago, Univision Chief Executive Joe Uva learned the company was not renewing his contract after four years running Univision.  Since then, Univision Chairman Haim Saban has taken on a more hands-on role managing the company's affairs, along with Falco. 

The Univision board has said it plans to conduct a formal search for a new chief executive.

-- Meg James

NBC Universal's Zalaznick to oversee Telemundo

La Revolución Cultural Comienza!

NBC Universal's Spanish-language television network Telemundo is about to get a jolt as Lauren Zalaznick -- the company's high priestess of marketing who has demonstrated a knack for turning tawdry reality shows into high culture -- will be tapped to take over the network. Zalaznick currently shepherds Bravo -- home to such splashy shows as "Top Chef," "The Millionaire Matchmaker" and "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" -- as well as the younger-skewing Oxygen channel and website iVillage.

Zalaznick's official title is President of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, which includes Bravo and Oxygen as well as NBC's Green is Universal initiative.

LaurenzalaznickIt would seem that the steamy Spanish-language telenovelas would be slightly out of step with the call for a carbon neutral footprint. Maybe Zalaznick will work on that.

Zalaznick's new role is expected as part of a new management structure being designed by Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke. Burke, who will become chief executive of NBC Universal when the Philadelphia based cable company takes control of General Electric's media company, is expected to unveil his organizational plan later this week.

Miami-based Telemundo has long presented enormous challenges and opportunities for NBC Universal, particularly as the U.S. Latino population grows. Telemundo has been the No. 2 Spanish-language network behind Univision Communications for nearly two decades. Recently, Telemundo has been looking over its shoulder as it faces a challenge in the ratings by Univision's secondary network, TeleFutura. Burke's plan could be to recast Telemundo as the Bravo of Spanish-language television.

NBC acquired the unit in 2002 for more than $2 billion, figuring it could channel its prime-time programming prowess into higher ratings.  But things didn't follow NBC's script, and the Spanish-language operation has become a bit of an island within the vast NBC Universal enterprise.

Don Browne, a former NBC News producer, has been president of Telemundo since 2005, managing its day-to-day operations. For the last three years, NBC Universal television Chairman Jeff Gaspin has been overseeing Telemundo on the corporate level, putting renewed emphasis on Telemundo's youth-oriented cable channel mun2. 

Gaspin said Monday that he would be leaving the company soon after Comcast takes charge. That means another shuffle for Telemundo. Since NBC took over the operation, three ranking executives have been in charge: Jeff Zucker, Randy Falco and Jeff Gaspin. Falco left the company in 2006 and the two Jeffs are losing their jobs as part of the Comcast takeover and reorganization.

Comcast is awaiting federal approval for its acquisition of controlling interest of NBC Universal. Once the deal closes, Comcast will own 51% and GE will retain 49%.

-- Meg James

Photo: Lauren Zalaznick. Credit: Derick E. Hingle, Bloomberg News

Los Angeles TV stations rake in the campaign cash

Most of the votes have yet to be cast, but one group already has emerged as a big winner in next Tuesday's election: Los Angeles television stations. 

Well Fargo Securities' media analyst Marci Ryvicker estimates that overall political spending this year could be as much as $3.3 billion -- an 11% jump over 2008. Television stations around the country are expected to collect two thirds of that total -- more than any other medium.

Los Angeles television stations are particularly well positioned. Ryvicker found that LA stations had collected $105 million by the third week of September -- three times as much as New York stations. And that was before the candidates' spending sprees kicked into high gear.  By the time election season is over, LA stations could take in as much as $150 million in political money.

“We could reach record spending levels here in Southern California,” said Sue Johenning, who is in charge of local advertising for the ad-buying firm Initiative. “It’s clearly the two big statewide races and all of these various committees. That’s making a difference.”

Meg Whitman, a Republican, has led the charge. The former Ebay chief has poured more than $140 million of her own billion-dollar wealth into her campaign for California governor. The floodgates opened after Labor Day when Democrat Jerry Brown and his backers began promoting his gubernatorial bid. That’s also when the race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina intensified.

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Telemundo: Would you like to buy a chunky bracelet through your tears?

Spanish-language telenovela audiences are known for their loyalty and passion.

Now the Spanish-language Telemundo network is hoping that viewers' desire for their nightly dose of TV drama will translate into jewelry sales.  Thursday, the NBC Universal-owned television network launched a website, telemundojewelry.com to hawk bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings sported by characters on Telemundo's prime-time soap operas, called telenovelas, including "El Clon" (The Clone) and "Donde Esta Elisa?" (Where Is Elisa?).Telemundojewelry

English-language networks have been unable to muster audiences that tune in night after night to watch the latest installment of the same prime-time program.  But Spanish-language networks, including Telemundo's competitor Univision, frequently command the rapt attention of their viewers, some of whom would love to lead the exciting lives that they see portrayed on the small screen -- righting cultural injustice, engaging in star-crossed love affairs with hunky hombres and, of course, wearing fabuloso clothes and jewelry.

Now viewers can buy the Telemundo jewelry online and, later this year, in retail stores. Prices range from $9.99 for earrings to more than $150 for necklaces and bracelets.

NBC for years has tried to cash in on the popularity of its shows, offering "The Office"-themed Dwight Schrute bobblehead dolls, "Today" show cooking aprons and, until recently, Conan O'Brien-inspired Conanlunchbox "Pale Force" lunchboxes  (NBC Universal's merchandise website says the lunchboxes, marked down from $15 to $6.97, are "currently sold out.")

The Telemundo jewelry line, an initiative of Telemundo President Don Browne and Executive Vice President of Emerging Businesses Peter Blacker, is offered in association with NBC Universal's consumer products group; Big Tent Entertainment; fashion designer Udi Behr, who selected the initial collection of jewelry; and the Richline Group Inc.,  a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a major jewelry manufacturer and importer of gold jewelry. 

We're not sure this is what Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and Chief Executive Warren Buffett had in mind when he helped NBC Universal parent company General Electric Co. out of its financial jam nearly two years ago with a $3-billion investment in GE. But it probably didn't hurt.

-- Meg James

Photo Credits: NBC Universal. Pictured are "El Clon" bronze-colored bracelet with turquoise stones (upper right) and the discontinued Conan O'Brien Pale Force lunch box (lower left).


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