Telemundo is an American terrestrial television network that has its headquarters in Miami, Florida. Founded in 1984, Telemundo primarily targeted Spanish speakers in the United States and other parts of the world, especially Mexico, Spain, Europe, and North and South American countries (Leonard and Lugo-Lugo 28). The growing popularity of the programs aired by this free-to-air television network, especially the Telenovelas, made it necessary for the company to consider translating some of the programs into other languages. Bodroghkozy notes that the management of this firm started by translating the languages of the popular programs from Spanish to English to increase their coverage (78).
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The move was necessitated by the increasing competition that the firm was facing in the local and regional markets. Currently, Telemundo programs are available in more than 100 countries and over 35 languages, and the firm employs over 1,900 workers in different parts of the world (Dávila and Rivero 89). It has also expanded its operations beyond the mass media by introducing Telemundo Digital Media. This essay focuses on the history of Telemundo.
History of Telemundo
The history of Telemundo can be traced back to 1954 on March 28, when Angel Ramos started the brand El Mundo through his WKAQ TV (Dávila and Rivero 26). At that time, Angel Ramos also owned the El Mundo Newspaper and Radio El Mundo. He was keen on maintaining the Mundo theme, which simply means the ‘world’ in all its media stations. Ramos attempted to get a license for the television business from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1940, but there was a freeze, and he had until 1954 to obtain it (Staubach 21). In the 1970s and 1980s, Telemundo Canal 2 gained popularity because it produced Spanish Soap Operas (Dávila and Rivero 47).
The popularity of most of the channels of this firm made it become a strong brand in North America, South America, and parts of Europe. As the firm continued to grow, internal management became an issue, as Bodroghkozy observes (62). Ramos sold WKAQ-TV and the Telemundo brand to John Blair & Co. in 1983 (Leonard and Lugo-Lugo 34). Figure 1 below shows one of the initial logos that were used in promoting the Telemundo brand.
Launch of the NetSpan
In 1984, Joe Wallach and his associates at Channel 47 and Channel 48 founded NetSpan, which was a simple abbreviation for Network Spanish (Dávila and Rivero 63). It was the second-largest television network, which focused on delivering its content in Spanish. The owners realized that the population of Spanish-speaking American residents was increasing, especially because of the increasing immigration. However, the dominant stations were delivering their content in English, ignoring a section of the society that could not communicate effectively in that language. They realized that the local television stations ignored a critical market segment. The new stations acquired KVEA in 1985 (Staubach 48).
The following year, the growing company acquired Telemundo from John & Blair Co. and all the related brands. The company operated under the brand NetSpan from 1984 to 1987 (Dávila and Rivero 43). The group manager merged all the stations owned by the company into a single brand known as Telemundo in 1987 as it continued to acquire new radio and television stations. The newspaper coverage of the company also continued to grow.
The Re-launch as Telemundo
According to Leonard and Lugo-Lugo, the Telenovelas became increasingly popular in the United States and other parts of the world (79). It became one of the most profitable businesses in the company’s portfolio. The company realized that there was a need to redefine the branding of NetSpan and all the stations and newspapers that it owned. The firm needed to embrace a brand that was not only popular but also memorable and with strong meaning to the targeted audience.
The researcher wanted to interview some of the journalists and other Americans who witnessed the transformation of NetSpan into Telemundo. Most of those interviewed are retired journalists and those who were working in the film and media industry in different capacities. In the small interview that was conducted, different respondents had varying views as to why this company re-launched as Telemundo.
Researcher, “What do you believe was the primary motivation of the management of this company to rebrand from NetSpan to Telemundo?”
Respondent 1 said, “The decision to rebrand NetSpan into Telemundo was motivated by the fact that the brand Telemundo was the most popular of all the names that the company was using at that time. In fact, Telemundo was more popular than NetSpan because it had a meaning in Spanish.”
The management of this firm had no option but to embrace the brand name Telemundo to remain relevant. At that time, the Federal Communication Commission had lifted the ban on licensing of a new television network. It meant that competition in the market was going to get stiffer than they were at that time. They needed to identify with their clients, and one of the best ways of doing that was to have a brand name that clients found more appealing. NetSpan could no longer be used because it did not have a meaning to the Spanish Audience, which was the primary target.
Researcher, “Do you believe that the management of NetSpan realized that the brand name Telemundo was more appropriate in marketing the company?”
Respondent 3 said, “Angel Ramos, the founder of El Mundo brand, had developed a theme that the top management unit of NetSpan found relevant in their new marketing strategy. The word ‘mundo’ or ‘the world’ clearly indicated that the firm was targeting the global audience.”
In the late 1980s, the firm had set its focus on expanding the market coverage beyond the United States. It wanted its products to be available to all Spanish speakers around the world. The company also realized that a massive number of people who love soap operas in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world was growing rapidly. The demand could not be met effectively by film industries in the United States. A significant number of movies produced by Hollywood had violence, making them less popular among many women. Bodroghkozy explains that many women like a love story (44). They prefer watching how people fight for love, and despite the hardships they face, love always prevails.”
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As such, there was a need to make the content available in more languages. The brand name Telemundo suited this company in its new initiative to explore the global market. It meant that the company would overcome both geographic and language barriers to make its programs available to the world’s audience. Dávila and Rivero note that this strategy worked (75). Telemundo became one of the most preferred television networks for soap operas in the United States and Europe. The strategy to have English subtitles was a massive success because content that was not previously available for most English-speaking Americans became relevant.
Researcher, “Was there any relationship between the expansion strategy of the company and the re-introduction of the brand name Telemundo?”
Respondent 4 said, “The need to introduce other products in the market was one of the main reasons why this company considered it necessary to rebrand. It needed to move beyond news anchoring to other similarly popular brands.”
When NetSpan acquired Telemundo from John Blair & Co, one of the most profitable programs was news anchoring and sports (Staubach 38). These programs largely targeted the male audience. However, Bodroghkozy notes that women were being empowered academically, politically, and economically (50). They could not be ignored any longer. The brand name NetSpan was largely associated with news and sports. The company needed a brand name that would be more relevant to its popular products. As such, Telemundo was more appropriate. It was also an indication that the company was keen on competing in the soap opera industry instead of news and sports. Telenovelas would be appropriately represented using the brand name Telemundo.
Sony Pictures and Liberty Media Partnership
In 1998, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media focused on expanding their market coverage. The two companies had formed a partnership as a way of managing the still market competition. They opted to buy Telemundo, one of the first rising brands in the market. The management introduced a new campaign slogan, Lo Mejor de Los dos Mundos, which means the best of both worlds, in its effort to attract the bilingual market (Leonard and Lugo-Lugo 53).
It marked a new era for the brand. As Leonard and Lugo-Lugo observed, the merger and acquisition meant that the company had enough cash to fund most of its programs, especially the Telenovelas (90). They could afford to run parallel programs after the merger and it helped strengthened the position of this brand as one of the dominant players in the soap opera market.
At the time of the acquisition, Telemundo’s market share had dropped by more than half, from 40% of all Spanish-speaking Americans to less than 20% (Dávila and Rivero 90). The market analysis also indicated that viewership of this network had dropped to about 13%. The new management realized that there was a need to conduct an overhaul of the schedule to protect the company from the imminent collapse. The programmers had failed to master and respond to the changing forces in the market. The new schedule focused on understanding the market segment and determining when it is appropriate to air specific programs.
The management went ahead to classify the market into senior citizens, women, men, teenagers, and children programs. The firm then made an effort to ensure that each group would be targeted appropriately. For instance, programs meant for children were aired mostly over the weekends. The soap operas that targeted women and some men were aired after the news. Sony Pictures Television also introduced some of its popular programs to popularize the brand. Some of the programs it introduced include Un Angel en la Casa and Solo en America (Staubach 52). The re-programming helped to promote viewership of this television network in the United States, especially among Mexicans and others who speak Spanish.
National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
In 2001, Reliance and Sony Pictures Entertainment expressed their intention to sell Telemundo Communication Group (Dávila and Rivero 38). At that time, the management had managed to restructure its operations and the company was once again gaining viewership both in the local and international market. When the announcement about the intention to sell was made, several companies expressed their interests.
They included Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom, and NBC (Leonard and Lugo-Lugo 87). The National Broadcasting Company, currently the NBC Universal, was successful and it went ahead and acquired Telemundo and all its properties at $ 2.7 billion. The company also had to inherit $ 700 million in debt that the acquired firm had accrued in its operations. The new management emphasized the need to continue with the production of the original programs.
In 2004, Telemundo Communication Group started Telemundo Television Studios, popularly known as Telemundo Studies, to help it compete effectively with its archrival in the local and international markets, Univision (Leonard and Lugo-Lugo 41).
It acquired RTI Colombia to form Telemundo-RTI to increase international distributions. One of the cost-cutting strategies that NBC Universal embraced was to stop the importation of the Telenovelas from Latin America and instead, it started producing the dramas locally. It formed a partnership with the Mexican-based Argos Communication and Colombian-based RTI Colombia to help in the production of the dramas (Dávila and Rivero 89). Respondents who were interviewed in this study felt that the initiative was meant to lower the cost of the content aired by the network and to give it more control in its activities.
Researcher, “Why do you think the top management of NBC Universal ceased importing Telenovelas?”
Respondent 2 said, “I believe the company was keen on having full control of the production of the content. They wanted soap operas and other dramas that would be suitable for both the local and international markets. Cost was another factor that the management must have considered.”
This particular respondent felt that the company was interested in having content that was relevant in the local market. Some of the Telenovelas that were imported from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil did not make sense to Spanish speakers in the United States. The socio-economic and political forces in these countries were significantly irrelevant to American residents. It explained why there was a consistent drop in the viewership of this program. However, the market review indicated that most Latin Americans and even Europeans were keen on migrating to the United States because of the opportunities and the promise of the American Dream (Staubach 47). As such, any content that was based in the United States would be relevant to them. They would have the opportunity to understand the American lifestyle as they focused on finding their way into the country. The company went ahead to hire some of the popular Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican, and Venezuelan actors. It also started working with American Hispanics in the production of local content.
Researcher, “Do you believe the new strategy of ceasing the importation of Telenovelas was a success for the company?”
Respondent 4 said, “The initiative was a major success. It allowed the company to match production with the demand. The content also became relevant to the international audience that had become fond of American films.”
Respondents interviewed believed that the restructuring of Telemundo Studios, under the management of NBC Universal, was a major success for the company and the Telemundo brand. It made the content relevant not only in the United States but also to the rest of the world. Besides lowering the expenses, the company was able to balance production and market demand. The strategy of hiring established Hispanic and Latin American actors also helped in protecting its market share both locally and internationally. It helped this firm to retain its image and critical factors that define its identity among global customers. The value of the brand and its market share continued to grow during this period. Figure 2 below shows the changes in the logo of Telemundo from 1987 to 2012.
In 2011, NBC Universal announced a sale deal that would allow Comcast to acquire a 51% majority stake for $ 6.5 billion. In the merger agreement, Comcast took over full control of Telemundo from NBC Universal. Bodroghkozy notes that in the sale agreement, one of the important products that motivated Comcast to acquire NBC Universal was Telemundo Studios (59). Emilio Romano became the president of Telemundo in the same year as the new owner focused on restricting the operations of the firm.
It was necessary to retain the image of the firm to reflect its traditional roots while at the same focusing on the emerging trends in the United States and Latin America where the firm has the largest audience. One of the first steps that the new management made in the restructuring process was to redesign the ‘T’ logo to reflect both the past and present. Figure 3 below shows the new brand image that the company embraced after being acquired by Comcast.
The new initiatives introduced by Comcast had a major impact on the overall performance of the company. The firm increased salaries for its key actors as a way of ensuring that they are retained. The initiative attracted numerous top actors from Televisa to Telemundo. Some of these actors include Lucero, Pedro Fernandez, Aracely Arámbula, Kate del Castillo, Raúl González, Laura Flores, Blanca Soto, Ana María Canseco, and Cristina Saralegui (Dávila and Rivero 70). It was a major step towards becoming a dominant player in the industry. The company launched two Telenovelas, La Patrona and El Señor de Los Cielos, which were a major success in the United States, Mexico, and other Latin American countries.
The company has faced different challenges in the local and global markets, but the management has remained committed to providing quality products as a way of ensuring that it remains sustainable. Staubach notes that despite the numerous acquisitions and mergers that the firm has gone through, the brand Telemundo has proven to be resilient and able to withstand the test of time (63). The history of the firm and the name that it was given by the founder remains relevant to this day, as Bodroghkozy observes (49). The following are some of the programs that are currently available under the brand.
The Telenovelas remains the most popular program under the Telemundo program, attracting global viewership. Most of these programs are currently available in different languages. At first, the firm started by providing subtitles in English, French, and other languages. However, it realized that viewers were struggling to read the subtitles while at the same time trying to follow the events (Dávila and Rivero 48).
As such, the firm made the initiative of translating the content to popular languages to make the products more accessible to a wider audience. La Cenicienta or Cinderella, and Amor Descarado, or Barefaced Love are some of the programs that premiered after the company was acquired by Comcast and the content was made available both in Spanish and in English (Staubach 71). They received a huge viewership in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The respondent interviewed feel that Telenovelas are still the main products that identify Telemundo.
Researcher, “What is the significance of Telenovelas to Telemundo as a brand in the America’s film and entertainment industry?”
Respondent 3 said, “Telenovelas are still the signature products for Telemundo. The brand has gained a global image as the producer of some of the most popular soap operas. I believe this is the reason why the name has been retained even after the numerous acquisitions.”
This respondent felt that Telenovelas are critical in defining the sustainability of the brand Telemundo. Dávila and Rivero explain that many firms often lose their brand name soon after their acquisition (126). WNJU (channel 47), KSTS (channel 48), and KVEA (channel 52), which played the primary role in the formation and promotion of the brand Telemundo, became irrelevant to the acquiring firms, and their brand names were not retained. However, the global market now identifies Telemundo with its Telenovelas.
In its diversification program, Telemundo introduced a sports division under the name Telemundo Deportes. According to Leonard and Lugo-Lugo, the most popular sporting activity in the United States is American football, followed by baseball, basketball, and then hockey (34). Soccer as a sporting activity comes a distant third. On the other hand, Football is the primary sport in Mexico and entire Latin America (Staubach 54).
Whenever there is a major football tournament, most major media stations have to ignore other sporting events. The disconnect meant that Latin Americans in the United States were underserved when it comes to the sports channel. This firm focused on addressing this gap by showing major soccer tournaments around the world. It focuses on Premier League, Champions League, Winter Olympic Games, FIFA World Cups, and other major football events (Dávila and Rivero 56). Its programs are popular among Hispanic Americans.
Telemundo News is another flagship product of Telemundo under the management of Comcast. This program produces an early evening newscast that takes half-hour in Spanish (Bodroghkozy113). Both legal and illegal immigration in the United States has led to an increase in the population of Hispanics in the United States. According to recent statistics, Hispanics and Latinos account for about 17% of the United States total population, with a state such as New Mexico having 47% of its population being Hispanics or Latin Americans and California having a population of 14 million Hispanics or Latinos (Staubach 116). Most of them who immigrated to the United States as teenagers or adults prefer watching the news in Spanish. As such, this program meets their interests.
Telemundo Digital Media
The management of Telemundo has come to appreciate the significance of digital media. It came up with Telemundo Digital Media to help it make its content available on the online media platform. The initiative was considered relevant because of the growing number of film producers and distributing companies, which have opted to make their content available in digital media. The move was meant to improve the competitiveness of the company in the digital era.
Dávila and Rivero say that “Hulu’s on-demand library of movies, shows, and anime, plus live streams of 58 channels, including your Telemundo live stream,” offers one of the best options of watching popular Telemundo programs online (41). The strategy was also meant to increase the company’s interaction with its customers through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Telemundo is one of the most successful free-to-air television networks that mainly focus on the production of Telenovelas. The history of this company dates back to 1954 when Angel Ramos founded the El Mundo brand through his WKAQ TV. Ramos realized that there was a growing population of Hispanics in the United States, and most of them could not communicate in fluent English. However, the film industry in the country ignored this population.
Identifying the gap, he focused on producing content in Spanish that would specifically target Hispanics. Since then, Telemundo has gone through mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring to meet the emerging needs of its contents. Although the firm has gone through several acquisitions, the brand name Telemundo has never changed. It is a sign that the name is the best reflection of the product that it offers and its mission both in the local and global markets.
Bodroghkozy, Aniko, editor. A Companion to the History of American Broadcasting. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2018.
Dávila, Arlene, and Yeidy Rivero. Contemporary Latina/o Media: Production, Circulation, Politics. New York University Press, 2014.
Leonard, David, and Carmen Lugo-Lugo, editors. Latino History and Culture: An Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015.
Staubach, James C. The Magic City Captured by Miami Vice, Scarface, Movies, and Burn Notice: A Guide to 80s Locations and Culture. Lulu.com, 2018.