Business Built on Original Content

Nov 25, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Telemundo President Don Browne manages the television network and its 16 owned-and-operated stations, including the entertainment division, Telemundo Studios, news and sports. His responsibilities also include Telemundo International, Telemundo Cable and Telemundo’s digital media initiatives. Mr. Browne was named president in April 2005 after two years as Telemundo’s chief operating officer. He spoke with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about Telemundo’s position in the burgeoning Latino television market.
TelevisionWeek: Where is Telemundo today?
Don Browne: We’re on the cutting edge. We’re all about where the business is going to be, in the sense that we’ve built the whole business model on original content that is produced specifically for the U.S. Hispanic audience. We have been doing this for four years in terms of creating the original content programming from scratch, so we are now sort of graduating from college. Our strategy has really matured to the point where both our core businesses are doing very, very well, and internationally we’ve become the second-biggest Spanish-language producer in the world. We are now an awesome force internationally with our original content. We’ve reinvented ourselves. Now the idea of producing original content and creating your own destiny seems to be what everyone else in the game is starting to do, and we are well into the game and well positioned for the future.
TVWeek: How has Telemundo reached this point in its development?
Mr. Browne: Five years ago, GE and NBC bought Telemundo, and that was significant because you couldn’t get a greater affirmation from a major company that Spanish-language was a growth story, that it was important and something in which to make a significant investment. It sent a huge signal to the industry that Spanish-language was a big deal. The beauty of being owned now by NBC and GE is that they are willing to invest.
TVWeek: What happened once NBC and GE took over?
Mr. Browne: It became clear after about a year of owning the company that the business model that they bought was not going to be able to be competitive and grow. So they made a huge investment in reinventing Telemundo. In order for us to be competitive, we would have to become content producers.
We began building an infrastructure and we began recruiting the best people in the world to create content. This was a very difficult thing to do when you haven’t been doing it. To create content requires a tremendous amount of commitment, a lot of investment, tolerance for trial and error. Basically, in four years, we have gone from producing nothing to be­coming the second-largest producer of Spanish-language content in the world.
Our core business is now strong; we’re up 12% over last year, and that’s up from the year before. We’re showing growth in all our dayparts, and we have a consistency now that we’ve never had before. And with the new rating system that we’ve gone to, which is essentially an even playing field with the English-language networks, we’re doing very well.
TVWeek: What has been the audience reaction to the “new” Telemundo?
Mr. Browne: The audiences are responding very, very well in that we are seeing growth coast to coast. We’re seeing a consistency that we never had before when we were just an acquiring company. We used to get a hit once in a while. It would be one big hit and everything else was pretty much low-rated. Now at 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock, we’re seeing very solid consistency, and we have quite an extraordinary pipeline.
TVWeek: It sounds as though you’ve re-created the old studio system, hiring all the talent and creating your own products.
Mr. Browne: Yes. The machine is up and running. We have studios in Colombia, Miami [and Mexico]. We’ll have a telenovela coming out of there by the end of the year. With studios in all three countries, we’ve got some of the best talent in the world. Patricio Wills, the president of the studios, is considered to be one of the most talented producers in any language in the world. We have a great infrastructure, great people, and we’re seeing really good results.
TVWeek: What made you get involved in developing talent?
Mr. Browne: There really wasn’t a Spanish-language entertainment industry or a telenovela industry in this country. We have created that industry. We have opened doors for actors and directors and producers and wardrobe people. It’s quite extraordinary what we’ve done.
I was told early on that the most difficult talent to get is writers. Writers are the key to the success of a telenovela, so I suggested that we create our own writing school. We partnered with Miami-Dade College and we created our first writing school, [Taller Telemundo]. What was stunning about it was that when we put out the notices about the school, we received over 4,000 applications from all over the world, extraordinary people from all walks of life and an amazing amount of diversity. We wound up with 18 finalists and we hired half the class.
There are a couple of students who came out of our first class, like this one writer who came to the United States on a raft from Cuba and was working in a cement factory. He only dreamed about this; he had no prospects. He made it into the class, graduated and became not only one of our most prolific writers, but has had two bestselling books with Simon & Schuster. But he’s not unique, because we have a lot of stories like that. The thing I love about this is that we’re opening doors for Hispanics who could only dream about being in this business.
TVWeek: Does the homegrown talent bring something to the process that you couldn’t find elsewhere?
Mr. Browne: Yes, exactly. The beauty of this talent is that they are so close to the audience that when they write, they’re writing about their unique experiences as Hispanics coming from some other place to this country to live. Their creative writing really speaks directly to our very diverse audience. We’re seeing a real cause-and-effect. We just graduated our third class from Loyola Marymount University. We have hired several of the graduates and now we’re about to do something different.
TVWeek: I read that you are now developing actors from this Taller Telemundo program.
Mr. Browne: Taller Telemundo really creates a lifeblood into our creative talent process.
Our new class is going to be an acting class, and once again we’ve gotten an extraordinary response and we’re auditioning people now for that class. Adriana Barraza, who was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award [for “Babel”], is the artistic director for the school, and it’s gotten a lot of buzz. It’s very exciting.
So what we’re doing is that we’ve recruited some of the best talent in the world to do this, and we’re growing our own talent to make sure that we can not only sustain this but continue to be fresh and relevant to our U.S. Hispanic audience, which is very dynamic and constantly evolving.
TVWeek: How does this affect other parts of the Telemundo business?
Mr. Browne: In a microcosm, it captures the spirit of the innovation that Patricio Wills has coined “the dream factory.” That’s what we call our studios, because in our telenovelas we create stories about aspiration and about dreams, and the people who are working in this industry, they’re fulfilling their dreams in that they get to work in this industry in the United States. Of course, as a progression, in the entire Telemundo, we’re literally opening doors to people who had only dreamed about this. Now they are not only going through the doors, they are now working and they’re producing and directing and writing and soon will be acting.
In four years, it’s extraordinary how far we’ve come, but I think we’ve laid the foundation for tremendous growth in our ratings and in our core business that also fuels our other businesses. Our digital business feeds off the original content. Our international business is growing dramatically because our telenovelas dominate the prime-time ratings in Spain, Colombia and Argentina. When you produce your own content and you own the content, it’s great for digital, Internet and broadband, and it’s great for international. Our content is so popular internationally, we get a premium for the syndication business.
TVWeek: How are telenovelas different from American soap operas or dramatic television?
Mr. Browne: It’s a very powerful format. There is a specific telenovela rhythm; it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a very intense, emotional commitment. Once you commit to a telenovela, you basically become emotionally invested in the characters, in the story. No matter what the ups and downs or the twists and turns, in a telenovela you usually have a happy ending. But you have to be invested and you have to go through all the blood, sweat and tears and laughter and drama in order to get the payoff. You have to stay invested all the way through; it’s not something you can come in and come out of.
The telenovela is the most popular format in the world. I think there’s no question—and I think [NBC Entertainment co-chairman] Ben Silverman is picking up on this—that soccer has been the most popular sport in the world, if not necessarily the United States, and it’s inevitable that it will become more popular in the U.S. I think people are realizing that the telenovela is the same. There is so much more expertise producing the telenovelas that I think it is inevitable that U.S. audiences will take to this format.
TVWeek: Will the synergy between NBC and Telemundo lead to NBC producing an English-language telenovela?
Mr. Browne: Jeff Gaspin, our new oversight for Telemundo, is on the West Coast, and he sits right next to Ben Silverman. Ben understands the power and the potential of the telenovela in the Spanish-language audience. It’s a wonderful opportunity to try. I think they have the awareness and I think we are going to have a great partnership. The atmosphere is perfect for that.
TVWeek: Telemundo has already successfully crossed into the NBC Universal family with the cast of “Dame Chocolate” appearing on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” How did that come about?
Mr. Browne: We have some very enlightened people at NBC Universal that get this. The Bravo group really gets it and we had a great thing with them, promoting each other and us driving audience to them and them to us. They were very excited about what we did. That’s what we call the cross-pollination of ideas. The collaboration and brainstorming that took place in that process will definitely generate some ideas for us.
TVWeek: How is the new business model winning the U.S. Hispanic audience for Telemundo?
Mr. Browne: One of my favorite lines is that it’s very complicated to make things simple. The thing that’s interesting in terms of simplicity is that the U.S. Hispanic population is exploding, not only in numbers but in purchasing power.
If you do your homework and get to know that audience, and you bring a group of talented people that write and produce content specifically designed to appeal to them and to grow with that audience, you have a really good business. That’s exactly what we’ve done the last four years. Typically when you go to a college, you graduate after four years; we think we are now getting our degrees.
All the really tough work of building, of getting the people, creating the infrastructure, the learning process are all behind us, and we’re really at the point where it’s all upside for us.
Anybody that wants to get into this will find it’s extremely difficult. We’ve done all the really hard work already. The people are here, the content is here—clearly our international business confirms that. The ratings are growing and we feel very optimistic.
TVWeek: What about the reaction from advertisers?
Mr. Browne: We had a very good upfront this year that I think was an affirmation of the confidence they have in us. They’re not just impressed with what we’re doing with the core business. They know that that strategy of original content is also driving our digital business and it’s also driving, in a way, our cable business. People are beginning to realize that we’ve become a 360 company by attracting talent. When you produce content, you become a mecca for the creative community. People won’t come to work for you if you’re buying something from somewhere else and then putting it on the air. What we’ve done, in terms of our core business, in our studios, we now have become a magnet for the best talent in the Spanish-language world. In terms of our digital business, we’re producing and taking advantage of our content.
TVWeek: The Telemundo network group includes a youth-oriented channel called mun2, which is also gaining in popularity.
Mr. Browne: With mun2 we have the next generation. There are creative people there that are really going to define what Spanish-language television is going to look like in the next 10 years. We have a recruiting tool to get this next generation of bilingual, bicultural writers and producers and directors in our organization. We’re driving a nice business there. Those people can cross over to NBC, they can cross back to telenovelas. It’s a great opportunity to attract the best people in the industry. We’re really beginning to see the payoff now of all this investment.
TVWeek: What do you see in Telemundo’s future?
Mr. Browne: This is what fuels me, because I’ve been a change agent my entire life. I don’t do a lot of things well, but I have been able to see the future pretty well and attract good people. What stimulates me is the amazing talent that we have in the organization. The division is beginning to pay off, and everybody feels it. There’s momentum in the air.
We’re raising the bar in terms of the quality of our content for the U.S. Hispanic audience. It’s a very stimulating environment here at Tele­mundo. When I look at where we were four years ago and look at where we are now, and I look at the passion and the excitement and the results, it’s hard not to feel good.


  1. Hey how are you doing? I just wanted to stop by and say that it’s been a pleasure reading your blog. I have bookmarked your website so that I can come back & read more in the future as well. plz do keep up the quality writing

  2. Thanks for your insight for the great written piece. I am glad I have taken the time to read this.

  3. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  4. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

  5. Kudos to you! This is a really good blog here and I love your style of writing. How did you get so good at blogging?

  6. I’m impressed in addition you treated this topic. isn’t often I encounter a blog with intriguing articles like yours. I will be aware your nourish to stay updated together with hereafter updates. I prefer it and do preserve up the complete work.

  7. I am not new to blogging and truly value your blog. There is much innovative subject that peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your web site and keep checking you out.

  8. I love the way you write and also the theme on your blog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a professional? I’m very very impressed.

  9. Love the blog here. Nice colors. I am definitely staying tuned to this one. Hope to see more.

  10. Insightful content! Will need a decent amount of time to toy with this story:D

  11. Great post=D Will require a decent amount of time to examine the post:)

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)