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Telemundo’s major makeover

Web revamps in hopes of making a dent in the No. 1 Spanish-language net

MIAMI — Despite spending $120 million to produce 13 of its own primetime soaps for three years, NBC’s Telemundo has yet to make a dent in rival Univision’s hold over Hispanic viewers.

The net is, however, still committed to its strategy of original productions initiated under former topper Jim McNamara.

Closing the persistent ratings gap with Univision requires “time, strategy and patience,” new prexy Don Browne told Variety.

But how much time?

Telemundo is no longer fighting just for the No. 2 spot: Univision’s second broadcast net, Telefutura, which launched in January 2002, has managed to edge ahead of Telemundo in certain dayparts.

“We focused most of our strategy and resources on primetime,” says Browne, acknowledging that Univision, via Telefutura, is a shrewd competitor. “We’re reinvesting in all those dayparts.”

They should.

Brad Adgate, a researcher with Horizon Media, which advises ad buyers, says there are other Spanish-language networks going after the same audience.

“Univision has the most to lose” from this fractionalization, Adgate says. “New startup digital channels are going to erode their share.”

Plus some of the American nets like ESPN, National Geographic and History Channel have Spanish-language counterparts, Adgate points out.

Still the picture is not all bleak for Telemundo.

“I look at Telemundo and it’s definitely going to gain market share,” he says.

Browne is making his move.

He’s shifted programming and production responsibilities from Ramon Escobar, now senior exec VP for network entertainment, and split programming and production between two execs — each of whom report to Browne– in a structure that more closely mirrors other networks.

The move allows Escobar to focus on his strengths, Browne says, including grid strategy, marketing and promotions.

All production oversight is in the hands of Patricio Wills, the Colombian producer who has headed Telemundo-RTI, a Miami-based joint venture. His portfolio includes productions in Mexico, where Telemundo plans to beef up substantially with its local partner Argos, in Colombia with RTI, and any other third-party deals.

Development is under Marcos Santana, the chairman and CEO of distrib Tepuy who had been a longtime, albeit informal, adviser to the network. Tepuy reps Telemundo in foreign sales and Santana has sniffed out a number of key scripts, including that for current production “Los Plateados.”

Browne has a rep as a motivator who can run a tight ship, and industry executives are optimistic about his changes, which also included adding news to sports exec Jorge Hidalgo’s purview.

Telemundo has needed a culture change and Browne is revamping for the long term, says Raul Mateu, a senior veep at the William Morris Agency, who has had dealings with the network since its inception.

“I don’t think the strategy has been the problem — it’s a question of having the right people to execute it at every level,” Mateu says. “That’s Don’s forte.”

Univision’s flagship net cherry-picks the best novelas from exclusive supplier Televisa of Mexico, and has been pulling in big auds this summer. In June, Univision climbed to the No. 3 spot among all U.S. broadcasters in primetime among adults 18-34, based on Nielsen ratings (for the period May 30-June 18).

“We’re excited over the continued momentum we established” with the current crop of primetime novelas, says Univision network prexy Alina Falcon.

Since Univision doesn’t pay upfront for primetime soaps (Televisa gets a cut of revenue), it invests in other genres, like news, talk and morning show “Despierta America.” And from sign-on to sign-off, it promotes relentlessly, not just across its channels, but on its radio network, online and off-network.

The eyeballs, and therefore ad dollars, follow.

Univision’s success is such that analysts estimate that its three nets — Univision, Telefutura and feevee Galavision — will nab 75% of the estimated $1.2 billion Hispanic upfront pie this year, up from a 70% take in 2004.

(Anna Marie de la Fuente in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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