Telemundo is heading into this year’s upfront with strong ratings momentum driven by the network’s investments in new programming, notably its “Super Series” revamp of the traditional telenovela format.
For the past two years NBCUniversal’s Telemundo has experimented in its 10 p.m. hour on weeknights with novelas that are designed to run Monday-Friday for shorter durations — 6o to 80 episodes rather than 120 or more — and be renewed for multiple seasons.
“El Senor de los Cielos” (Lord of the Skies), the flagship “Super Series,” set a network ratings record with the bow of its fourth season in March drawing 2.8 million total viewers, including 1.6 million in the adults 18-49 demo and 873,000 in adults 18-34. The series stars Rafael Amaya as a power-mad drug lord who undergoes plastic surgery to hide his identity often ranks No. 1 in its time slot among adults 18-34 across English and Spanish-language networks.
The draw of the Super Series coupled with Telemundo’s investment in family-friendly entertainment programs for weekend primetime, local and national news and sports powered the network to reach all-time ratings highs in 2015. After years as an also-ran to Univision, Telemundo is closing the gap with its larger rival, which has seen declines in its primetime schedule.
For the season to date, Telemundo is averaging 1.6 million viewers in the 7 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday primetime slot, up from 1.5 million during the same frame last season and up from 1.3 million in the 2011-12 season. Adults 18-49 is essentially flat versus last season at 742,000, but up from 686,000 in 2011-12.
By Telemundo’s estimate, the network’s share of the U.S. Spanish-language audience in adults 18-49 grew 7 points last year to 36%, while Univision and its sibling broadcast network Uni Mas accounted for most of the rest.
Telemundo’s biggest advantage, in the view of president Luis Silberwasser, has been its focus on delivering more original series developed and produced for the U.S. Hispanic audience. That is a contrast to Univision’s model of showcasing novelas license from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
“We use that as a filter for everything that we do,” Silberwasser said. “We want our shows to be relevant to the audience that is living here in the U.S.” Telemundo has also sought to add dimension to the traditionally fantastical novela genre by dealing with themes such as immigration, discrimination and social justice concerns that resonate with Hispanics in the U.S., Silberwasser said.
Not everything has worked. “Que Noche,” Telemundo’s effort to fill the void left by Univision’s cancellation of Saturday night variety mainstay “Sabado Gigante,” has been a slow build since its November premiere.
The Super Series push has brought a consistency to Telemundo’s schedule that is a plus for its pitch to advertisers in the upfront. Telemundo, like other broadcasters, has seen a spike in demand and pricing for scatter sales in recent months, which is predicted to set the stage for a strong selling season.
Telemundo is also buoyed by having broad access to summer Olympics programming as part of the NBCUniversal family. The Rio location of this year’s games will likely increase interest among Hispanic viewers. Telemundo’s Olympics team is planning a big effort to augment its event coverage with docu profiles of Hispanic athletes from the U.S. and Latin America.
(Pictured: Rafael Amaya of “El Senor de los Cielos”)