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Silberwasser’s three-point plan

Luis Silberwasser joined Telemundo in late 2014 as president of the US Hispanic network. A few months into the new job, he tells Stewart Clarke about how originals, new-school telenovelas and reality TV are integral to his plan for success

Luis-Silberwasser-HeadshotLuis Silberwasser is three months into his new job as president of Telemundo when TBI speaks to him about the prospects for the NBCUniversal-owned US Hispanic broadcaster. Having only recently got his feet under his new desk in Telemundo’s Miami HQ, the former Discovery content boss already has a plan in place.

While engineering Discovery’s programming strategy around the world, he was steeped in factual and fact-ent content, but Telemundo plays to a much greater extent in the drama world, specifically with telenovelas.

Part of his plans for Telemundo involve a continued re-engineering of the telenovela, which is already underway and bearing fruit with several weeks of success over its arch-rival Univision in the coveted 10pm primetime slot. The new form of novella – in Telemundo parlance a ‘super series’ – is shorter, punchier and more akin to a US drama than a Latin series.

“They are high-end have more action, and are grittier and faster-paced,” explains Silberwasser. “A lot are rooted in real-life events, and when we look at the audience results we see these super series are bringing a more balanced demo, with more male viewers and more younger viewers  who are attracted to the action and grittier subjects.”

He adds: “We’ve been running them at 10pm and have beaten Univision for 14 weeks. That gives us an inclination as to what we should do at 8pm and 9pm.”

Univision has a long-term output deal with Mexico’s Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-language producer ahead of Telemundo, which produces out of its US-based Telemundo Studios. Silberwasser says: “We’re not in programme acquisition mode like the competition; we have our own studios, shows, talent and development teams. Telemundo Studios  provides product that meets the need of the [US Hispanic market]; it is made in the US, not in Mexico.”

Unlike the traditional telenovela that could be 140 to 160 episodes and run for four or five months and then have a closed ending, the super series are designed, ratings permitting, to come back. El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies) will, accordingly, go into an unprecedented third season. Meanwhile, the second super series, Dueños del Paraíso (Masters of Paradise), will debut in January. The Telemundo Studios project is a collaboration with Chile’s TVN and is set in 1970-80s Miami, following the exploits of a female drug baron. Telemundo Internacional will launch it internationally at NATPE.

If increased investment in original production and redefining the telenovela genre are two parts of the strategy at Telemundo, reaching family audiences with entertainment is the third. This is where the US Hispanic broadcaster is at its most international-friendly, buying global formats and working with the likes Talpa, on La Voz Kids (The Voice Kids), Tinopolis’ Magical Elves, on Top Chef and Spain’s Reset TV on Yo Soy el Artista (I Am the Artist).

Top Chef is noteworthy for being from the NBCUniversal cable channel stable; it plays on Bravo, and is distributed by NBCU. Silberwasser says Telemundo and the NBC broadcast and cable nets share plans: this year Lord of the Skies has been optioned for a remake by NBC and Mujer de Acero (Woman of Steel) by USA Network, which is also piloting Telemundo’s Reina del Sur.

Telemundo’s other big content bet is soccer. Back in late 2011, it won a raft of FIFA rights including the last and next World Cups. It shares rights with Fox in a deal that saw ESPN and Univision displaced as rights holders.

With these key sports in hand, Telemundo Studios ramping up and a new-look late primetime, the test of Silberwasser’s tenure will be sustained growth in original programming and its ratings, and the ability to transform other parts of the broadcasters grid, notably the 8pm and 9pm slots.
“What we have put together is a strategy with three components,” Silberwasser says. “In 12 months Telemundo will look very different, drawing on our belief in originals, the work with super series at 10pm and in reality on Sundays.

“In the next 12-to-24 months we will take that success and see it permeate elsewhere. We’re looking at how we can differentiate 8pm and 9pm, which are not runaway successes like 10pm yet.”