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A Broadcast Giant in Any Language

Complete Coverage: Station Stars of 2017

The Dec. 4 news that Telemundo Station Group would acquire the 13 TV stations owned by ZGS Communications (the largest group of independent Spanish-language stations affiliated with the Telemundo network) may be the biggest news of the year for the NBCUniversal-owned properties.

But before that, it had to be the weather.

The combination of bilingual journalists, new weather-reporting technologies, updated consumer apps for Spanish-viewing audiences and the combined resources of Telemundo and NBC-owned sister stations made the nearly 20-station strong Telemundo Station Group a standout during 2017’s natural disasters and B&C's Station Group of the Year.

“We’re offering unprecedented resources for both on air and digital for local Spanish-language stations, and we feel like we set records with how much live coverage we did in those markets during the hurricanes,” Valari Staab, president of NBCUniversal’s Owned Television Stations division, said.

Before, during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, five Telemundo owned-and-operated stations (Houston, Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio, Texas; Miami, Fla., and Puerto Rico) pushed out a collective 370 hours of coverage, with both NBC-and Telemundo-owned stations sending bilingual reporters to Houston, Miami and Puerto Rico.

WTVJ Miami reporter Julia Bagg headed to Houston to cover Hurricane Harvey for Spanish-speaking audiences. And when Irma and Maria hit, Telemundo and NBC sent bilingual reporters in the opposite direction, to Telemundo’s WKAQ, the Puerto Rico station that produced local news and weather reports during and after the hurricane, live-streaming them to keep the diaspora informed.

“For us to be successful we need to bring in the Spanish-dominant audience, but we also have to bring in the bilingual audience, so we’ve made it a priority to hire bilingual journalists across all of our stations, which has helped both Telemundo and NBC,” said Manuel Martinez, president of the Telemundo Station Group. “Working jointly with NBC stations, we had more stories, more angles, more talent on air, and the audience recognized our efforts with incredible numbers.”

While the emphasis on bilingual journalists was crucial to Telemundo Station Group’s hurricane coverage, so too was NBCUniversal’s investment in the gear: high-frequency S-band radar systems, “StormRanger” mobile radar vehicles and other weather technology and tools. “We felt the audience didn’t have all of the weather information that they needed, so we got [that technology] for most of our markets,” Martinez added.

NBCUniversal’s investments in Telemundo have aimed to give each local station — regardless of location — access to the latest newsroom tech, everything needed to deliver both local news and real-time weather reports, across platforms, Staab added. Sure, NBC stations share resources with Telemundo stations in the same market, but ever since Telemundo’s O&O stations were brought under the purview of NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations in mid-2013, every single one has been upgraded with new sets and studios, upgraded on-screen graphics and the latest back-shop hardware.

“Because we have scale — because we have so many markets where we’re serving two different languages, where we’re able to go after two different advertising bases — it makes any capital investment more affordable for our group,” Staab said. “We’re able to leverage expensive purchases across more business, giving smaller stations more capabilities.”

On a more fundamental level, in the past, the small staffs of a Spanish-language station wouldn’t be able to keep up with today’s around-the-clock news demand. Now? “We use the resources from other Telemundo stations to keep coverage going 24/7,” Staab said. That means keeping every Telemundo station connected using the systems that NBC uses, avoiding any disparity when it comes to in-station workflows.

Martinez added, “We strengthen our news teams by making sure they have access to the best news and weather technologies, so they can deliver the best information, not just on air, but on mobile and digital.”

An Emphasis on Apps

NBCUniversal’s tech investment in Telemundo stations stretches beyond the newsroom. In mid-2016, Telemundo Station Group debuted individual station apps for its locally owned stations, offering Spanish-speaking users personalized features and automated weather alerts in Spanish, a first for a local TV-station group in the U.S. Instead of one, overarching Telemundo branded app, a more local (and personal) approach was undertaken, Staab said.

“Probably one of the biggest upgrades we did for [Telemundo] was the apps, changing [the focus of] local apps from entertainment to local news, with a tremendous amount of weather features that had never been available in Spanish before,” she added. “Primarily and most importantly, no apps in the U.S. had weather alerts in Spanish, and ours do, all the same weather alerts in English that you would get in Spanish.” Among the features: a live radar offering that offers access to real-time, location-based weather, using three radar sources.

That station-centric app approach has paid off: during Hurricane Irma in September, the app for WSCV Miami hit as high as No. 3 among news apps for Apple iOS devices.

The Telemundo stations have also set up teams whose sole focus is nothing but in-depth investigative journalism. In February, Telemundo-owned WNJU New York launched a dedicated Spanish-language investigative unit, and Telemundo’s WSNS Chicago did the same in November. Martinez said he’s hopeful that’s just a start.

“Our consumer unit was very successful. We wanted to take it one step further,” he said.

Parsing Nielsen data to fit a narrative is old hat, but to end November, Telemundo Owned Stations did point to plenty of numbers to hang a hat on. Season to date, Telemundo is ahead of Univision in weekday prime among adults 18-49 (920,000 vs. 695,000). Its performance in some of the top markets was notable:

  • KVEA’s (Los Angeles) weekday newscasts at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. ranked No. 1 among adults 18-49, regardless of language.
    • WNJU’s (New York) 11 p.m. newscasts ranked No. 1 among adults 18-34 and adults 18-49, regardless of language.
    • WSCV’s (Miami-Fort Lauderdale) weekday newscasts at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ranked No. 1 among adults 18-49 and 25-54 in the market, regardless of language.

In just the Spanish-language viewer segment, Telemundo topped various weekday newscasts in places like Dallas-Fort Worth, the San Francisco Bay Area, Phoenix, Chicago, San Diego and Denver.

What’s Next?

First hinted at in an early February, Telemundo launched its own O&O San Diego station in July, running as a multicast feed of NBC station KNSD and initially airing three Spanish-language newscasts each weekday. Telemundo 20 ended November as San Diego’s most-watched Spanish language station among adults 18-49 and 25-54 for evening and late local news.

“I’m proud of our outstanding team of professionals for achieving such a worthy accomplishment after launching Telemundo 20 five months ago,” Richard Kelley, president and GM of the station, said in a press release.

Telemundo already has two new station openings planned for Jan. 1: Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn. “We’re going to be enhancing the capabilities of those stations, just like we did with San Diego, where from day one we built a new set, hired people, added an hour of local news, and the audience reacted,” Martinez said.

The station group’s next challenge: the FIFA World Cup. It’s Telemundo’s first time broadcasting the world’s most-watched sporting event, having snatched the Spanish-language U.S. rights from archrival Univision, and it will be airing roughly 60 soccer games with more than 1,000 hours of video across digital platforms and social media.

“It’s a big streaming and broadcasting project, and it’s going to be huge,” Staab said.