Armando Nuñez Reflects on Road to Variety International Achievement in TV Award

CBS global distribution CEO Armando Nuñez Jr. went on the record with his career goals at a young age.

As a teenager in New York City in the early 1970s, Nuñez and his mother were out shopping one day when they were stopped by the New York Daily News’ Inquiring Photographer columnist. He asked Nuñez what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I told him, ‘I want to be in international television sales, just like my dad,’ ” Nuñez recalls. “The guy looked at me like I had three heads. He had no idea what I was talking about.”

Nuñez made good on his pledge, even if he didn’t make the Inquiring Photographer column. Four decades after that encounter, CBS Corp.’s longtime international leader will be feted April 8 with Variety’s Intl. Achievement in Television Award, to be presented at the MipTV sales conference in Cannes.

“I have always loved the ability to interact with people from different parts of the world,” Nuñez says of his 35-year (and counting) career. “I love creating relationships that last for decades. And I love the concept of exporting Americana in all its different ways, shapes and forms.”

Starting fresh out of Fordham University in the mid-1980s, Nuñez climbed the ranks at ABC, Viacom, New World Entertainment and Universal. He moved into the top international sales post at CBS in 1999. During the past decade he’s led CBS’ charge to expand internationally. He drove CBS’ 2017 acquisition of Australian broadcaster Network Ten.

Nuñez has been instrumental in growing CBS’ international revenue by “several multiples” during the past 10 years, according to Joe Ianniello, CBS president and acting CEO.

“We have to be able to compete on a global scale,” Ianniello says. “Armando’s knowledge of international territories has given us the confidence to do deals like [the acquisition of] Network Ten.”

Ianniello calls Nuñez “a well-rounded executive” and “a class act through and through.”

Just as Nuñez told the Inquiring Photographer, Armando Nuñez Sr. was without question the biggest influence on his son’s move into the once-esoteric world of international distribution.

Nuñez Sr. had been a film sales executive for 20th Century Fox in Havana before Fidel Castro led his communist revolution in 1959.

“He drove movie prints around and delivered them to theaters in Havana,” Nuñez says. The elder Nuñez and his wife fled Cuba after the revolution for New York. At the time, Nuñez’s mother was eight months pregnant. “We always say I was made in Cuba, but born in New York,” Nuñez quips.

Nuñez Sr. worked for Fox in New York, and then he took a job with Britain’s ITC Entertainment, led by the legendary cigar-chomping impresario Lew Grade. During those years, the younger Nuñez came to appreciate the scope of the global television industry as he watched his father’s company shop such U.K. productions as “Thunderbirds,” “UFO” and “Space 1999” to U.S. television buyers. He recognized early on that television was a vast worldwide market.

“I was always just amazed to see the power of the medium,” Nuñez says.
Friends and colleagues say Nuñez is well-suited to his work because he has an immigrant’s understanding of how different world cultures are outside the U.S.

“He has one foot in the U.S. and one in the international world,” says Jim McNamara, vice chairman of Hemisphere Media Group and vice chairman of Pantelion Films. McNamara recruited Nuñez to New World and to Universal. “He’s fluent in Spanish. He’s at ease in the countries outside of the United States. He has no problem walking into France and Germany and Italy and understanding the subtle differences between them.”

Moreover, Nuñez has a “brain like an Excel spreadsheet,” McNamara says, noting Nuñez’ impressive ability to remember details and nuances of rights deals around the world. “Not many people have the kind of brain that can handle all that detail. Armando is one of the most detail-oriented people I’ve ever met.”

Armando Nuñez, left, was honored at MipTV in 2013, where he was one of the first recipients of the Medaille d’Honneur.

Nuñez began forging his path in international sales at a time when producers saw international sales potential as “a nice little add-on” for a show. This was back in the era when Scandinavian TV buyers paid studios for programs by the minute, and some countries would only take a handful of episodes of shows.

“International was seen as a little icing on the cake,” Nuñez says. “Now it is the cake.”

Nuñez’s first job out of college was stuffing envelopes and sending Telexes for Michael Solomon, the co-founder and former head of Telepictures, a successful syndication company now owned by Warner Bros. “To this day I bang hard on the keyboard when I type because of sending all those Telexes,” he says. “You’d really have to bang on the keys to punch holes in the tape.”

Nuñez’s break as an executive came in the mid-1980s when he joined ABC’s distribution arm in New York. ABC didn’t have a lot of high-profile shows to sell in those days as the FCC essentially barred the Big Three networks from owning most of the shows they carried in primetime on antitrust grounds (aka the “fin-syn” rule). But ABC struck a ground-breaking deal to sell ABC-produced sports programming in China, and sold the Academy Awards rights around the globe.

In his travels Nuñez could see that markets were changing in Europe and other territories by the late 1980s. Countries previously dominated by state-run media outlets were opening up to privately held services. This evolution proved to be lucrative for Hollywood’s major film and TV producers.

“When the commercialization and privatization of television in Europe happened in the late 1980s, there really wasn’t the infrastructure in place to produce the volume of content that was needed,” Nuñez says. “That was a great point of outreach for us. Then we were off and running.”

The marketplace has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. Finding buyers for shows is rarely a problem. The bigger challenge is breaking through the forest of TV shows, not only in the U.S. but also from other emerging exporters of shows and formats as Israel, Turkey and Scandinavia.

“The good news about the environment we’re in is there are many different types of platforms around the world and many opportunities to monetize content in a number of different ways,” Nuñez says. “The biggest thing now is that it’s much tougher to cut through the noise.”
Moreover, the sales landscape is becoming trickier as the U.S. giants experiment with launching Netflix-esque direct-to-consumer platforms. All of the majors are primed to emphasize their own affiliated productions in order to get the most bang for the buck.

“The complexity of the marketplace — where to monetize, how to monetize, exclusivity versus non-exclusivity — is very hard,” Nuñez says. “But it’s still always about the content and that ability to engage an audience.”

Nuñez arrived at CBS just in time to take advantage of the company’s growing investment in content production. CBS now produces the lion’s share of the network’s scripted programming through CBS Television Studios. Showtime has greatly expanded its original series roster, giving Nuñez’s team a different flavor of drama to bring to buyers. CBS All Access is also turning out more than a half-dozen original series a year.

“From a traditional broadcaster perspective there’s still an environment where they’re looking for a good old-fashioned procedural,” Nuñez says. “Then there’s the cool, more serialized type of programming that a buyer depends on to move the needle from a subscriber and anti-churn point of view.”

Armando Nuñez, second from right, touted 13 global offices for CBS back when he was honored at MipTV in 2013.

Nuñez is quick to credit the creative development and execution of CBS’ productions steered by CBS Television Studios president David Stapf and Showtime chief David Nevins, who is also CBS Corp.’s chief content officer.

“We’ve had the good fortune of seeing significant growth over the last 10 years,” Nuñez says. “To work with incredible content creators and close colleagues like David Stapf — I can’t say enough about him. We all work very closely together. You need the goods to sustain the kind of growth that we’ve had.”

The big push for the past few years has been to better establish Showtime and CBS All Access as programming brand names around the world. Showtime has launched as an imprint in Canada and the U.K. for the first time in 2016. The CBS All Access subscription streaming service headed north for its Canadian launch last year. Under Nuñez’s guidance, CBS is also coming up on the 10th anniversary of its international channels joint venture with AMC for a collection of themed entertainment channels serving the U.K., Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Nuñez was instrumental in leading CBS’ acquisition in 2017 of Australian broadcaster Network Ten after the company ran into financial trouble and entered bankruptcy proceedings. The process started with CBS trying to sort out the impact of Network Ten’s travails and the potential for CBS to be left with a big unpaid bill for programming. As Nuñez monitored the channel’s fate, it became clear to him that a revitalized Network Ten could play a big role in CBS’ global expansion plans.

“We went through an evolutionary process in our thinking. We started out with ‘Oh boy we’ve got a potential issue here’ to ‘There are assets that are unique here,’ ” Nuñez recalls. “I made about five or six trips to Australia in the same amount of months.”

Nuñez hints that CBS is looking for more network assets to scoop up in key territories. “We’re always looking for opportunities to expand our footprint and monetize our content in different ways.”

Across all the millions of miles he’s traveled, Nuñez says there is one constant to doing business in every market: It’s all about the shows. “We are not selling data streams,” he says.

The long tail of undisputed classics in the CBS library — think “I Love Lucy,” “Star Trek” and “Cheers” — is prima facie evidence that it pays to invest in quality content.

“There are shows 50 to 60 years old that we are still actively selling today,” Nuñez says. “My timing in this job was very, very good. I’ve been able to work with a lot of great colleagues around the world who share a similar passion for great content.”

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