Telemundo’s ‘Never Say Never’ Strategy Is Working

Why the No. 2 Spanish language network is gaining on No. 1

Back when he was an ad buyer, Mike Rosen never thought Telemundo would be able to give a serious ratings challenge to the nation's dominant Spanish-language network, Univision. Now, as evp of ad sales for the NBCUniversal Hispanic Group, which includes Telemundo, Rosen sees "the network that must not be named" in striking distance. "Never say never," Rosen said at the close of Tuesday night's upfront at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In April, Telemundo got within 456,000 viewers in the adults 18-49 demographic to Univision. That gap was more than three times that, or 1.56 million, in Feb. 2009. The network got a boost from the Billboard Latin Music Awards, its most-watched ever, and the premiere of the third season of telenovela El Señor de los Cielos (Lord of the Skies), which was the highest rated premiere in network history, averaging 2.68 million total viewers and 1.76 million adults ages 18-49. "We are a network that refuses to be defined by legacy or convention," Rosen said.

While Rosen explained the growth story, network president Luis Silberwasser—at his first Telemundo upfront—told clients what kind of programming they can expect to see: new telenovelas with devious characters (or as Silberwasser called them, "morally challenged"); expanded live events; two musical biopics based on the lives of two of Latin America's biggest stars, Celia Cruz and Juan Gabriel; and, for the first time on a Spanish-language U.S. network, Gran Hermano (Big Brother).

In addition to bringing back the Billboard Latin Music Awards and the iHeart Radio Fiesta Latina, Telemundo will broadcast the first Latin American Music Awards.

Silberwasser also promised "the most balanced and objective" coverage of the 2016 elections from his news team, led by anchors Jose Diaz-Balart and María Celeste Arrarás, who were in the audience and whose news program is up 18 percent, making it "the fastest-growing evening newscast regardless of language," Silberwasser said.

NBC Universo, the 3-month-old cable network formerly known as Mun2, also has an ambitious slate. It will begin with Women's World Cup matches this summer; it has a deal in place for Mexican League soccer games; it is taking competition cooking south of the border for Top Chef Mexico; and it will debut a competition series featuring Hispanic veterans from the U.S. Special Forces. Network president Ruben Mendiola thinks of NBC Universo as being like TNT, but for "for people who speak Spanish, English or Spanglish."

Reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, who is a judge on the network's La Voz Kids, got clients jumping with a live performance to close out the upfront, which is when the real work begins: selling all those shows geared toward the 57 million—and growing—Hispanics in the U.S.