Mel's Diner: Alex Pels
February 23, 2007 3:33 PM
Who: Alex Pels, general manager, mun2
When: Feb. 7, lunch
Where: Café des Artistes, Hollywood
Dined On: Normally I would go wherever my lunch date desires. But it was a tight day schedule-wise and Tanya Lopez, mun2’s director of corporate communications, and I had been trying to match up mun2 (pronounced “mundos,” Spanish for worlds) and TelevisionWeek schedules for months. So I suggested Café des Artistes, my favorite easy-to-get-to, dependable spot halfway between TVWeek on Wilshire east of La Cienega and Studioland on the other side of the hill.
Lunch is the best time to visit this restaurant, which specializes in French food but also offers standards such as great salads and some of the best mac-n-cheese in town. The service during the day tends to match the bright, cheerful feel of the garden-like main dining area. And you can pretty much always get a table. (Around dinnertime, though, I usually feel transported right to Paris, complete with stereotypical snooty service.)
Mun2 General Manager Alex Pels and my boss, TVWeek Editor Greg Baumann, both ordered good-looking lamb chops that were gone before I knew it.
In addition to their tastes in cuisine, we discovered Alex and Greg share an affinity in recreation: They are among the few avid fishermen any of us know in the TV business in Los Angeles. Before Alex moved to L.A. with the network a year ago, he spent a decade living on the water in Miami, where he could fish from his own dock. (He lived in New York before that.)
Worth noting: I dunno what Café des Artistes puts in its iced tea. I love the vaguely coconut thing it has going on. I asked what they do, but the server just said, “It’s tropical.” I didn’t push it. I was saving my hard news skills for the mun2 crew. (If anyone knows more about that tea, do tell.)
The Dish: Everyone’s gotta eat, but the food really was beside the point at this lunch. I got to sit at the cool kids’ table.
I completely missed Alex and Greg putting those chops away probably because I was so immediately absorbed in what Alex had to say. I didn’t know him or much about mun2 before we met at Café des Artistes. But pretty soon I started developing one of my rare professional crushes on him.
I have only a small handful of these admirations. They are always for really good reasons. This surely will make me sound like a big TV nerd-stalker (maybe I am), but I was just plain fascinated.
In short, he and his team are chasing what could turn out to be one of the most powerful demos in the future of TV. The network, which was launched in 2001 and relaunched in October 2005, was first in line to connect with the bilingual Hispanic youth market.
Young Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Hispanic population. Latinos 12 to 34 years old make up 43 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to a mun2 fact sheet.
And they are up for grabs.
The network targets a group that speaks primarily English but grew up among people who speak primarily Spanish. They can go between worlds and have cultural references for both.
“They’re in a cultural twilight zone,” Alex said.
By and large, young Latinos don’t feel represented by any sort of brand, according to mun2 research. No type of clothing, no retail item, nothing. Certainly not a TV network.
Not yet, anyway.
Mun2, currently available in a little more than 10.5 million homes, is designed to “mirror” and “celebrate” them, Alex said. In September, mun2 unveiled a new “digital home,” holamun2.com, which is loaded with video, social networking and attitude.
The network, whose parent company is NBC Universal’s Telemundo, clocked 13 consecutive months of ratings growth since rebooting. Seriously. That just doesn’t happen.
Alex talked over lunch about why I won’t see telenovelas—the general market’s Spanish-language format rip-off du jour—on mun2, but I will see lots of music, pop culture and lifestyle programming. I don’t know how to say this without sounding as utterly uncool as I am, but what they’re doing at mun2 just sounds so, well, cool. (Er, hip? Is the word slammin’ these days?)
As I listened, I kept thinking this is what it must have been like to talk to MTV executives early in that network’s evolution. You know, like chatting with Tom Freston around the time he pondered a tagline: “‘I Am MTV’ … no, ‘I Like MTV’ … er … ‘I Want My MTV’—yes. That’s it!”
Turns out Alex, whose background is rich in music and TV production, was one of the founders of MTV Networks Latin America. He likens relaunching mun2 to being involved in MTV in the ’80s. Back then he walked in to the taste-making venture and felt as though they “could change the world,” he said.
Alex, originally from Argentina, consulted on the mun2 relaunch for six months before taking the GM position and relocating the operation from Miami to Los Angeles. They regrouped with a “100 percent” new team, new programming and new marketing.
He said he didn’t intend to join the network full time, much less move out of his Miami beach house, when he signed on to consult. But he and his wife, a chef on hiatus, found a spot in the Hollywood Hills. He couldn’t have sounded happier about his digs.
Moving the network was daunting, but the right call, he said. Mun2 now is headquartered in the entertainment capital, which also happens to be one of the biggest Hispanic markets and home to parent-company resources.
Alex said mun2 is getting ready to make yet another move a few weeks down the line—to permanent space in Universal CityWalk.
But he had more immediate tasks at hand, like production on new shows. That’s how a relaunch goes.
“You can never work on one thing,” he said.
A few weeks ago he started focusing on the mun2 upfront, which will be incorporated into Telemundo’s push.
“See? I’m already out of my mind,” he said.
Most execs stick to their best behavior with the press, especially at first, but my B.S. alarm was silent throughout lunch. Alex smiled easily while we talked and came off simply as someone who loves what he’s doing.
Why? “Not always do you have the opportunity to be part of something that’s going to be bigger,” he said.