Network goes overseas to build audiences

MEXICO CITY — In order to gain ground in the U.S., NBC U-owned Telemundo is challenging Mexican media rival Televisa abroad.

Televisa’s telenovelas on Univision routinely beat Telemundo in the ratings, but prexy Don Browne says as Telemundo builds up its international sales arm and brand, that will help feed greater ratings north of the border.

He’s banking on Telemundo’s telenovelas in Spanish-language markets that send migrants to the U.S. to help the net build up its brand recognition Stateside, where Televisa still remains far better known and understood, especially among Mexican Americans.

With that in mind, the U.S. Hispanic broadcaster is preparing to launch 12 telenovelas in HD next year as well as continue co-producing across the world as it builds up its beachhead in China.

Since Browne installed an aggressive original production plan four years ago, Telemundo has grown into the world’s second-biggest producer of Spanish-language content, behind Televisa. Now, through its international sales arm, under the direction of Marcos Santana, Telemundo is pressuring Televisa Estudios’ global sales.

“We have had dramatic growth in international markets,” says Browne. “In Spain our content is in the category of ‘ER,’ it dominates primetime. In Colombia, in Argentina, all over Latin America, and now increasingly in Europe and Eastern Europe and China, our product has been received very well.”

Web’s telenovelas have been hits across Latin America, while it has been breaking into new markets in Asia and Africa. Last year, Telemundo distribbed 27,000 hours worldwide and execs say it is seeing 20% growth this year in international sales.

During July, Telemundo had 64 telenovelas on-air across Latin America compared to Televisa’s 123, or the 35 from third-place power, Colombian web RCN.

“El Zorro: La espada y la rosa,” web’s first co-production with Sony, ranked third among the nation’s top five networks when it aired in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest market, according to Telemundo.

“Madre luna” bowed in August on RCN and has nabbed audience shares of more than 35%. That followed the release of “Marina” on Colombian web Caracol with its nearly 39% audience share, the web says. Other telenovelas like “Dame Chocolate” have beaten the competition in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

“We are going face to face against Televisa in more than 30 markets, and beating them,” says Santana. “The place were we aren’t winning is in the United States, but this reaffirms we are on a good road, sooner or later we will succeed in the United States as well.”

Meanwhile, outside the web’s natural Spanish-speaking markets, Telemundo recently debuted in Ghana with “El cuerpo del deseo” (Second Chance).

In Indonesia, Telemundo reality show “Quincenera” (My Teen Dream), produced by Nostromo, pushed fifth-place net Indosiar to top of the heap in the 7 p.m. slot.

Santana says co-productions and adaptations of its formats for other markets will help drive growth next year. Telemundo already is co-producing in Portugal, Philippines, Indonesia, and Russia and will soon be in Spain and more Asian countries, including China, he says.

Major telenovelas due out next year include “Dona Barbara” by Romulo Gallego, to be produced at the web’s Colombia studios.

One of the first telenovelas set to come out of Telemundo’s new studios in Mexico will be a longer version of Colombian mini-series “Sin tetas no hay paraiso” by Gustavo Bolivar, a racy telenovela about a woman involved with the mafia.

Telemundo is in talks to add a major co-production partner to the telenovela.

Then there is the “big market,” Santana says. Telemundo will bow two telenovelas next year in China, “El Zorro” and “Marina,” as well as pushing into South Korea and other Asian countries.

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