"We're the fastest-growing broadcast network in America, with eight consecutive months of growth," said Steve Mandala, senior VP-sales and marketing, Telemundo and NBC Universal. "We've grown in weekday prime time by 68% year-on-year. We're delivering a 28 share of audience -- and it will continue to grow."
It was a very different picture last year. "Our ratings were not anywhere where we wanted them to be," said Telemundo President Don Browne in a conference call with journalists before the presentation. "And they were heading in the wrong direction."
On track for success
Telemundo stuck with its strategy, begun in 2004, of producing original programming rather than importing shows, and has restructured the network over the past year. The most recent move, just last week, was a deal with Yahoo to merge Yahoo en Espanol with Telemundo.com to form online property Yahoo Telemundo.
"The programming is more evolution than revolution," said Carl Kravetz, chairman-CEO of Cruz/Kravetz: Ideas, Los Angeles, and chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. And that's OK. "If they stay on this track, they will continue to grow share. Last year they were defensive whenever they referred to Univision. This year it was fun."
Poking fun at rival Univision, the leading Spanish-language network, is an annual ritual. But as Ramón Escobar, Telemundo's senior exec VP-network entertainment, presented the new shows, he surprised the audience by leading a black-tie song-and-dance routine to thunderous applause. Cheeky lyrics directed at Univision, which is currently on the block and in litigation with Televisa, the Mexican network that is a major Univision shareholder and program supplier, included: "We're not for sale. We're made for you. ... Not to be too rude, but we're not being sued. We're made for you."
The network is doing well with tried-and-true formats such as the novela, a genre the English-language networks are trying to emulate. Telemundo's new novela lineup includes "La Viuda de Blanco" ("Blanco's Widow") about a young widow who tries to reclaim her psychic twin sons after being falsely imprisoned for killing her husband, who reappears on her next wedding day. In "Dame Chocolate" ("Give Me Chocolate"), a young, unattractive woman with a unibrow finds wealth through a fabulous chocolate recipe that the man she loves tries to swindle her out of. She then undergoes a drastic reality-show makeover and becomes gorgeous.
Putting on a show
To keep up the flow of melodrama, the network started Taller Telemundo, a writers studio to develop novela and other scriptwriters. In a scene worthy of one of his novelas, Mr. Escobar introduced a Taller Telemundo graduate seated in the audience, a young immigrant who had fled Cuba on a raft and was working as a truck dispatcher at a concrete factory when he was plucked from obscurity to attend the writers school. He subsequently wrote the highest-rated episode of Telemundo's 10 p.m. drama "Decisiones."
The presentation was punctuated by other acts of showmanship, such as the introductions of three Miss Universe contenders -- Miss Puerto Rico, Miss Dominican Republic and Miss Colombia -- who were sitting in the audience in their sashes and tiaras. (NBC and Telemundo will air the Miss Universe pageant.)
Mr. Mandala made three onstage appearances but, unlike Mr. Escobar, his only concession to show business was to briefly don a black Zorro mask after Mr. Escobar described a new novela with a heartthrob lead based on the legend of Zorro.
Mr. Mandala said Telemundo, like broadcast sibling NBC, has 24 "360-degree marketing platforms" available and ready for advertisers involving some combination of Telemundo's novelas, sports and specials; cable network Mun2's music and lifestyle content; and the new Yahoo Telemundo. He didn't go into detail about online opportunities, to the disappointment of some agency executives, but in the earlier conference call with journalists, he cited as one example an opportunity for viewers to vote online on the ending of a novela and then watch a different ending on the Internet.
Agency executives interviewed at the afterparty generally said they liked the programming, but they expressed doubts that "El Gran Show," a new weekend variety show touted by Telemundo, could make inroads against Univision's formidable 20-year-old "Sabado Gigante."
Mr. Kravetz also liked Telemundo's take on the international game show "Deal or No Deal," a current NBC hit, which will feature the popular host of the Mexican version, called "Vas o No Vas." "They take American concepts like game shows and make them feel Latino," he said.
"It was better than NBC," said Osvald Mendez, managing partner-director of integrated communications, Vidal Partnership, New York. "Telemundo was painless, very focused."
He said he especially liked the prime-time novelas and a "Desperate Housewives"-like daytime novela called "Cuatro Rosas" ("Four Roses") about four female friends and their loves.
"Four slutty housewives, and they're all Eva Longoria," he said.