NBC hopes Telemundo deal helps reach Hispanic market

By Gary Gentile, The Associated Press
Monday May 06, 2002

Bilingual cooperation just one example of network’s ideas for Spanish-language integration 


LOS ANGELES – When WNBC reporter Darlene Rodriguez finished filing a report on the recent meeting of U.S. bishops at the Vatican, she switched hats and filed a second report in Spanish for the Telemundo network and its New York affiliate. 

That kind of bilingual cooperation is just one example of the way NBC hopes to work with Telemundo, which it bought last October for $2 billion. 

The relationship will most likely bear its first fruits behind the scenes, with the networks eliminating duplicate back office operations and combining some of its sales staffs, even housing some NBC and Telemundo affiliates in the same building. 

But NBC president Andy Lack hinted at broader moves recently at a news conference announcing that Telemundo had hired away Maria Celeste Arraras, a top newscaster at dominant Spanish-language network Univision. 

Arraras is expected to contribute occasionally to NBC’s Dateline and news shows on NBC’s other cable channels. 

“There aren’t going to be any walls between NBC and Telemundo,” Lack said. 

Media companies and advertisers are waking up to the buying power of Hispanics, whose numbers in this country have grown nearly 60 percent in the past decade to 35.3 million, according to the 2000 census. 

Over the next 20 years, that figure is expected to grow to 55 million. Their purchasing power could grow at three times the rate of the rest of the country, analysts say. 

But crafting the right strategy to capitalize on that market is still a work in progress, with tact and sensitivity key considerations. 

“When we start trying to hit each other over the head with ethnic hammers, nobody is listening,” said comedian George Lopez, who stars in his own sitcom on ABC. 

To help reach Hispanic audiences, NBC executives are asking Telemundo for advice on casting pilots for the upcoming season while examining a new Telemundo reality series and popular telenovelas, or soap operas, for ideas. 

“We may have a programming opportunity in daytime, where soap operas are so strong,” Lack said in an interview. “Latino viewers have a passion for that genre, and we can go to school on picking up some good programs there. 

“We may want to cast actors and actresses who are bilingual if it works on some of our programming,” he said. “A Latin star of a Telemundo soap opera might find him or herself as a guest star on some of our programming if the language capabilities are there.” 

Telemundo has little to lose in joining NBC. It has long languished in the shadow of rival Univision. 

Being part of NBC holds the promise of greater advertising revenue, which could be used to lure top talents like Arraras. The chance to appear on NBC from time to time is also seen as a recruiting tool, especially for newscasters. 

“I think there is a large market for crossover anchors and reporters,” said Jim McNamara, president and chief executive of Telemundo. “We’re not going to promise someone a gig on NBC. But the fact is that as part of Telemundo, you are part of NBC.” 

McNamara said as many as 40 percent of Telemundo’s news reporters are fluent enough in English to file a breaking news report. And many NBC journalists, especially in major markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami, are bilingual. 

“I don’t think it’s a driving force behind the deal,” McNamara said. “But it’s an obvious byproduct.” 

Executives at Univision are taking a different tack by trying to reach even more Spanish speakers and bilingual Hispanics who have been watching English-language television because of a lack of compelling Spanish programming. 

“We’ve developed an expertise in the Hispanic market,” said Ray Rodriguez, president and chief operating officer of Univision Networks. “Our strategy is not to Americanize our network.” That strategy is in line with the findings of a recent study on ethnic media in California, one of the first states in the nation where minorities are a majority. 

The study showed the strength of ethnic media — especially Hispanic and Asian newspapers and television — and revealed that a growing number of minorities in California prefer to read publications and listen to broadcasts in their own language. 

Lopez, however, believes Hispanics will respond to English-language programming that has quality, regardless of whether it features Hispanic performers or newscasters. 

“I’ve always felt the way to get us to be mainstream is in small increments,” he said. “The success of a Marc Anthony and a Shakira is the way America will finally come to understand we are talented people, we can help the system economically and not deplete it like you see so much of on the news.”