By Amy Chozik (NY Times)
The new approach, reflecting the changing dynamics of Hispanics across the country, can be seen in the network debut of the Cuban-born television personality Cristina Saralegui as the host of a Sunday variety show, and in a crop of new telenovelas intended to reflect the sensibilities of acculturated Hispanics.
In each case, the programs will feature a sprinkling of English and be available with English subtitles — something not as readily found on the competing Univision.
As Telemundo’s president, Emilio Romano, put it after joining the network in October, his goal is to “focus on a more acculturated, more bilingual” audience, without alienating the core Spanish-dominant viewers.
“If you think about Telemundo as a narrower broadcast network, you quickly get to the place where, like all broadcast networks, your mandate must be to go for the widest possible audience,” said Lauren Zalaznick, the chairwoman of entertainment and digital networks and integrated media for Telemundo’s parent company, NBCUniversal.
Bilingual Hispanics, defined as speaking English more than Spanish or Spanish and English equally, are 82 percent of the United States Hispanic population, according to a report released this year by Scarborough Research, a consumer research firm.
This group has more disposable income than the more Spanish-speaking recent immigrants, with 12 percent of acculturated Hispanic families earning $75,000 to $100,000 a year, the study said.
Telemundo’s efforts to capture viewers in that category speaks to a larger goal within NBCUniversal under the new ownership of the nation’s largest cable provider, Comcast Corp.
As a cable and broadband provider, Comcast foresees Hispanics driving growth in new cable subscriptions, an otherwise mostly flat business. The 2010 Census results showed more than half the total population growth in the United States from 2000 to 2010 was because of the increase in the Hispanic population. In 2010, Hispanics accounted for 50.5 million people residing in the United States, up from 35.3 million a decade ago.
The change in demographics has been noted by advertisers, who have flocked to Spanish television in growing numbers. In the 2011-12 season, advanced advertising sales at Telemundo spiked 25 percent from the previous year to more than $400 million, and the price that advertisers pay per 1,000 viewers doubled, according NBCUniversal.
Advertisers also may be attracted by the fact that Hispanics watch more TV as a family, with Spanish-speaking grandparents often gathered around the TV with their predominantly English-speaking grandchildren, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. Shows that incorporate both languages and cultures can hook multiple generations.
“You may have a home full of generations with different perspectives,” said Roberto Orci, chief executive of Acento, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency aimed at Hispanics.
Telemundo hopes to capitalize on that with Ms. Saralegui, who came to the network after more than two decades as Univision’s daytime queen. Known as “Oprah Winfrey with salsa,” her mix of saucy, Spanglish celebrity interviews and girl talk is seen as central to Telemundo’s plans.
The platinum blonde’s “Pa’lante con Cristina” made its debut on Oct. 9, and attracted 1.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Univision’s Sunday-night “¡Mira Quién Baila!” — a Spanish-language take on “Dancing With the Stars” also available with English closed-captions — averages 3.9 million viewers. On an average night, Univision has 3.8 million viewers compared with one million for Telemundo.
Unlike her Univision show, in which Ms. Saralegui gabbed about cheating husbands, eating disorders and plastic surgery and largely featured stars from Mexican telenovelas, her Telemundo show aims to draw both Spanish-speaking stars and mainstream Hollywood celebrities.
“If Tom Cruise wants to sell ‘Mission Impossible 4,’ ” Ms. Saralegui said, “then he has to go to Spanish-speaking viewers, and I hope he jumps on my couch.” Some guests will speak English on the show, with simultaneous translation, she said.
In addition to “Pa’lante con Cristina,” the network’s Miami-based Telemundo Studios is shooting “Una Maid en Manhattan,” a telenovela based on the 2002 Jennifer Lopez movie. The soapy drama will be available with English subtitles.
“Más Sabe el Diablo” (“The Devil Knows Best”), which concluded in early 2010, also took place in New York and was available with English captions.
In next year’s lineup of telenovelas, there will be “Caidas del Cielo” — a “Charlie’s Angels”-inspired drama — and “Físico o Química” — about the complicated relationships at an urban high school. In addition, Telemundo’s bilingual crossover Web site targets English-dominant Hispanics, and its sister network Mun2 (pronounced moon-dose or “worlds” in Spanish) is aimed at young Hispanics who speak English outside the home.
Telemundo is receiving promotional help from sister networks. Ms. Saralegui appeared onNBC’s “Today” show. The women of “The Real Housewives of Miami” went on Telemundo’s morning show “Levántate.” Jencarlos Canela, the lead in “Más Sabe el Diablo,” sang the Spanish-language theme song in Universal Pictures’ hit animated feature “Hop.”
Even with the new corporate mandate, getting Telemundo celebrities on “Today” is not easy. Many household names among Spanish-speaking viewers do not have the crossover clout to carry a segment on the country’s most-watched morning show.
That is why as soon as Joshua Mintz, Telemundo’s head of entertainment, heard that Univision had not renewed Ms. Saralegui’s contract and that she was free to negotiate a new deal, he went to her Miami home and discussed coming to Telemundo. “In our market, there aren’t a lot of icons or long-lasting figures,” Mr. Mintz said.
Ms. Saralegui, 63, was editor in chief at the Spanish-language Cosmopolitan magazine before breaking into TV with her ubiquitous daily “El Show de Cristina.”
In 1992, CBS Television Stations gave Ms. Saralegui an English-language , “Cristina.” It ended after 13 weeks of disappointing ratings. (Jorge Insua, a spokesman for Ms. Saralegui, said the show was always intended as a trial and ended because of disagreements about budget.)
As part of the multiseason Telemundo deal, Ms. Saralegui insisted on creative control, which included having the freedom to speak a mix of Spanish and English and to host Hollywood stars and Top 20 musicians like Michael Bublé and Beyoncé, even if they are not Hispanic.
“In my house, we speak Spanglish to the dogs, to the grandchildren, to the kids. My kids are American,” Ms. Saralegui said. “That’s what’s happening in the U.S. now versus when I started and it was the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in New York and the Mexicans in Los Angeles. Now, we’re all mixed up from 23 countries.”
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