Telemundo power

Tortorici to top Latino net's new exec team

MIAMI — Telemundo, the perennial poor cousin of Spanish-lingo TV, is finally getting a high-powered leadership overhaul, with former CBS entertainment prexy Peter Tortorici leading the SWAT team.

Following a Federal Communications Commission greenlight for the purchase of the broadcaster by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media, the new owners unveiled Thursday the appointment of four execs whose mission is to turn around Telemundo’s lowly 12% primetime Hispanic share.

As forecast by Daily Variety (June 26), Tortorici was confirmed as network prexy. Also tapped were leading Latino TV exec Nely Galan as prez of programming, former SPE senior VP of corporate development Alan Sokol as chief operating officer, and 10-year SPE veteran Rachel Wells as exec VP of marketing.

Former Telemundo CEO Roland Hernandez becomes chairman of the station group. Other station group appointments are expected soon.

Growing pie

The announcement comes nine months after SPE and Liberty committed $539 million to buy out the loss-making broadcaster. At stake is a fast-rising Spanish TV ad pie, which reached $780 million in 1997 and could hit $950 million this year.

“If we can take primetime to a 20% share, we should be very successful. Of course, we feel we can do much better than that,” Jon Feltheimer, prez of SPE’s Col TriStar TV Group, told Variety.

That projection, which Feltheimer said may take a couple of years to realize, is in line with analysts’ estimates of where Telemundo needs to be to generate a profit.

Telemundo’s foe is Univision, whose unerring ratings hegemony largely owes to an output deal with Mexico’s Televisa, the world’s top telenovela factory. But novela auds skew older, and Feltheimer’s team believes the key to success is in going first for the 18-34 demo, and with original product.

Latinization

To that end, Sony is ditching much of Telemundo’s pale-imitation approach to programming and arming the fall slate with a slew of shows reversioned from its library. Hence “Starsky & Hutch” becomes “Reyes y Rey,” “The Dating Game” is Latinized to “Buscando Pareja” and “Who’s the Boss” is now “Una Familia con Angel.”

Tortorici denies that this is merely recycled Anglo fare. “You could say Anglo product is itself warmed-over, ancient Anglo product. The new versions are fresh because of the writers and the characters.”

“Reyes,” for example, plunders “Hutch” only for plot lines. The leads are now cops on the border — one Mexican, one Chicano — who work together in a volatile climate of mutual U.S.-Mexican suspicion.

With Tortorici’s appointment already out of the bag, the top news Thursday was the appointment of Galan. A Cuban-American, Galan comes full circle: She started out as Telemundo’s youngest station manager — at New Jersey’s WNJU — when 22. Lately she has led the marketing and consulting firm GaLAn Entertainment.

U.S.-Latino brand

“This is a market that’s received an imported view of Latinos, but living in the U.S. is what unites us,” said Galan, referring to Univision’s novela-heavy slate. “Right now, more than the programming, we have to look at the branding.”

Playing to the pride factor, Telemundo’s new marketing effort centers on a phrase coined by Galan’s own mother: “Being Latino in the U.S. is the best of both worlds.”

Though Galan views “Reyes” as a likely hit, she admits that the new slate — set to debut Sept. 28 — was put together in a hurry. Hispanic TV production has been held back by historical reliance upon imports, so Telemundo’s greatest challenge may well be to cultivate a talent stream of Latino directors, writers and actors.

“The Latino community is going to have to rise to the occasion very quickly. The next few years are going to be definite apprenticeship time — it’s going to be very exciting,” Galan said.

Advertisers have been cautiously enthusiastic about the new Telemundo. Sokol said most upfront negotiations are ongoing, but clients that have closed have typically committed at least 20% higher spending than last year. He added: “We have several seven-figure deals from first timers that are Fortune 500 companies.”

Said a Hispanic ad agency media director: “The share of viewing among the two networks is so disparate, Univision really has got you by the short hairs. But they’ve increased their prices rather quickly, so some advertisers are just not going for it.”

On Wall Street, Telemundo stock closed unchanged at $43.88.

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