New prez Browne looks to long-term strategic play

When Telemundo prexy and CEO Jim McNamara ankled the NBC-owned Spanish-lingo channel last week talk had been circulating for months that his contract, which expired March 31, would not be renewed.

Chief operating officer Don Browne, who many felt was the real power behind the throne, has been upped to prexy.

“McNamara was the PR face of the company,” says a source. “He is charming, knows everyone’s names and has been great for sales but when it came down to business, people mainly dealt with Browne.”

Under McNamara’s watch, the perennial No. 2 Hispanic net ramped up production as well as boosted ad revenue and international sales. However, his tenure was clouded by a string of employee dismissals over alleged expense account abuses and financial irregularities.

NBC, as part of GE, has been implementing GE’s integrity compliance program so that all procedures at Telemundo have been under review — expense reports, purchasing, etc.

“GE runs internal audits of all its divisions all the time,” McNamara says. When some abuses surfaced, they were “dealt with swiftly and discretely,” he says, but blames a disgruntled wannabe employee for spreading salacious reports about him and Telemundo. McNamara denies that any financial irregularities had been found.

Both McNamara and Browne, in separate interviews, say rumors that McNamara’s contract would not be renewed due to these allegations were completely false.

McNamara had been running Telemundo since 1999 when GE-NBC bought the net for $2 billion in 2001. After his three-year contract with NBC expired in March, he says, he “felt that it was time for this chapter to close.” McNamara plans to make some initial investments in the broadcast sector in Latin America as well as explore opportunities in Latino film and TV production.

Together with Browne, McNamara spearheaded the network’s 100% original programming strategy, forging strategic joint ventures with Mexico’s Argos, Colombia’s RTI and Brazil’s Globo.

Now it will be up to Browne, who reports to NBC Universal TV Group prexy Randy Falco, to boost ratings and revenue growth. Telemundo has continued to struggle against rival Univision, which reaches 98% of U.S. Hispanic households, and faces increasingly robust competition from Univision’s fledgling channel, Telefutura.

“There’s no silver bullet,” Browne acknowledges. “This is a long-term strategic play and we’re looking for slow, steady growth.”

Going forward, Browne anticipates more cooperation with NBC and other units, such as Universal theme parks, At some parks, Hispanics make up 38%-40% of visitors, he notes.

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