How the Census Will Change Your Business: A Q&A With Telemundo's Don Browne

The 2010 Census is expected to reveal that the Hispanic
population in the U.S. is now nearly 50 million, which represents
a startling increase of 14 million—or about 40%—in
the last decade. That number will put an official stamp on
what executives at Spanish-language networks, including top-rated
Univision and NBC Universal’s Telemundo, have known for a long
time: that the Hispanic market is a vital economic constituency.

Don Browne, president of Telemundo Communications Group—
which includes the flagship network, 16 O&Os, Telemundo Studios,
news and sports, as well as digital and international assets—talks
to B&C Programming Editor Marisa Guthrie about the impact of
the Census results on Telemundo’s business, NBCU’s new-to-Washington-
regulators diversity track record, and what the company
expects from Nielsen’s post-Census sample adjustment. An edited
transcript follows.

The 2010 Census is expected to show that the
Hispanic population has grown by 40% in 10
years, accounting for half of the total U.S. population
growth during the decade. Those are pretty
pronounced numbers, yet marketing budgets
are still overwhelmingly focused on non-Hispanic
consumers. When is marketing psychology going
to catch up with the numbers?

The fact is that a lot of people have been talking about
this for a long time. But a lot of people have not been acting on this almost $1.3 billion of economic power
that is about to explode. But I think that for the first time
in a really manifested way, we’re seeing a consciousness
about this at a level that we’ve never seen before. In the
upfront process and in client development meetings that
we’re having, there is much more awareness, much more
of a commitment, much more of an understanding that
things are changing now. And post-2010 Census, they
will be moving very quickly.

Probably the single fastest way to grow any business
is to understand and embrace this growth. And if you
don’t, it’s at your own peril. So, we’re seeing enlightened,
smart decision-makers beginning to understand and
jump on board. And I think it bodes really well if you’re
in the Hispanic business. But I think it also bodes really
well for the general market also becoming much more
aware of the need to be speaking to this audience.

How have the Census and the presumed
realignment of the Nielsen sample affected your

There’s a very clear understanding. Every agency that
we’ve talked to is probably more aware of the opportunity
than they’ve ever been before. And not only are they
aware, but they’re willing to act on it. This also comes
at a time when we’re seeing a real clear indication of an
economic recovery. So, three things are converging: the
best, most focused awareness of this opportunity; the
willingness to act on it; and economics that are favorable
for acting on it. It’s one thing to understand the
opportunity, but it’s quite another to have a budget to
take advantage of it.

Is the market still subscribing to the anachronistic
notion that Hispanic households are not affluent?

Part of the reason it’s not going faster is there is a lingering
misperception of the vitality and power of this
economic group. I think that’s where the sea change is
taking place. I think that the opportunity is becoming
so compelling that it is removing the reluctance or the
misinformation about what a powerful opportunity this is. It’s just good business. If business leaders can demonstrate
growth in their businesses, they’re going to be
successful. And I think what people are realizing is that
the single fastest way to grow any business in the next
two to five years is understanding, embracing and acting
on the Hispanic marketplace.

How important is Nielsen’s realignment of the
household sample? Have you had conversations
with them? And what do you expect the impact
on Spanish-language television ratings will be?

It’s obviously inevitable that there are going to be more
meters placed where the growth areas are. And the greatest
area of growth will undoubtedly be Hispanics. I think
it bodes very well for national growth, but also the local
television stations will be seeing that growth because
there will be more meters to measure more Hispanics.

There have been long-standing complaints that
the Nielsen sample does not properly measure
minorities. Are you satisfied with Nielsen?

We’d like to see more resources being dedicated to making
an effort to measure that growth accurately, and I
think they are well aware that they are going to have to
redirect resources. If there’s a segment of the population
that the Census indicates is growing this dramatically, we
should be seeing that reflected [in the] Nielsen [sample].
We’re encouraging them to allocate the resources they
need to make sure they get into these areas. All we want
is an even playing field. And part of that is making sure
that as the Hispanic population grows, that they redirect
their resources to make sure these numbers are being
reflected. It’s something that they want to do. And we’re
encouraging them to do it quickly because this is going
to be a significant part of everyone’s business.

Comcast/NBC Universal recently announced a
slew of diversity initiatives, including a Latino
advisory council, a $7 million increase in ad
spending on minority-owned media, a Spanish language
movies-on-demand channel and executive
training programs aimed at minorities. I
would think that Telemundo and mun2 would be
a linchpin in so many of those initiatives. How are
your networks involved in that?

I’m glad you brought that up. So, let’s talk about diversity,
which is one of my favorite subjects. When NBC
bought Telemundo, the president, the COO, the CFO,
the head of the TV station group, the head of network
news, the head of network sales were all non-Hispanic.
That’s pretty amazing, huh? How does it look post-NBC?
In every one of those positions, not only are they all
Hispanic, but they’re some of the top executives in the
country who happen to be Hispanic. So, we’re not dealing
with remedial programs. These are some of the best
people in the world.

In addition to that, when [NBC] bought the company
we did not have studios and, of course, the president of
our studios is Hispanic. And mun2 is a significant cable
property overseen by our COO, Jackie Hernández, who
is one of the leading media executives in the world who
happens to be Hispanic.

My point is, if you look at Telemundo post-NBC in
terms of diversity, the quality of the talent and leadership,
it is an entirely different company than it was before
the sale. We hardly produced anything before. But
now with our studios, we are the second-largest content
company in the world. And we are able to fulfill many of
the things that Comcast wants to accomplish in serving
a larger community. So, we’re very excited about the position
we’re in to support everything that Comcast and
NBCU are talking about. It’s really pretty amazing for the
one gringo that everybody puts up with—that would be
me. We’ve got a pretty amazing team.

Diversity is a convenient poster child for Washington,
however well intentioned. Do you think
that Telemundo and mun2 aren’t recognized by
the diversity police in D.C.?

It just drives me crazy. We go to Washington and people
don’t even know our story. I have always believed [diversity]
happens to be good business. We are just surprised
at how few people really understand what we have done.
Mun2 was a little joke six years ago; now it’s a huge
bilingual, bicultural organization run by bilingual, bicultural
Hispanics. We created those studios. There was no
place for Spanish actors, writers, directors, set designers
in the novella world. Everybody would buy [programming]
offshore. But the studio system has produced
hundreds of jobs for the [Spanish-language] creative
community in the U.S. that did not exist before.

Jeff Zucker convinced me to take the job [at Telemundo]
in the first place. He has been my wingman. And
everything we’ve done here, he has supported. He grew up in a Spanish-dominant community in Miami. He actually
speaks Spanish. That’s really important because
that’s where the rubber hits the road: the corporate executive
commitment to this space.

Sometimes I think Washington wields the diversity
issue like a club.

There’s no question. Telling the story that Jeff should
be able to tell is not convenient, it’s off the script. What
he did with a Spanish-language company on his watch
is a great story that no one’s really told very well.

They don’t like mergers in Washington.

Right, but here’s my point: I know everyone likes to
beat up on big corporations, but God only knows what
would have happened to Telemundo if NBC and GE
hadn’t bought it. We were able to transform ourselves
with a tremendous infusion of investments. If you look
at the diversity of our leadership today versus when
we bought the company, it’s really quite an extraordinary

But when NBC first bought Telemundo, news
operations were centralized. More recently,
there’s been a new commitment to localism.
What’s driving that?

The general business of media is changing dramatically.
Everyone is trying to figure it out. And in the
process of trying to figure it out, people have gone through trial and error. It wasn’t unique to Telemundo;
every news organization in the world has been trying
to deal with the economics.

I am a news person first and foremost. I’ve run networks,
and I’ve run local television stations. We had
to make some adjustments to tough economics and
even tougher economics. But I was able to hire Ron
Gordon, who is running our stations group, and now
Ramon Escobar [who’s now executive VP of network news]. I’m a passionate believer in localism. I’m a believer
in news as the first line in serving your community,
informing it, empowering it. Somebody didn’t call
up and say, this is what you must do. This is what we
believe we must do. So, we are beginning to reinvest
in localism and go back to the future because it is the
front line of serving the community, and that begins
in our local markets. We’re reversing the trend, and
frankly it’s already paying off.

How will the Census impact decision-making in
the general market?

As they see the data and the statistics, they’ll realize
they’re going to have to reach out to this audience
as well, and whether it’s acculturated, bicultural or
bilingual, the general market will increasingly have
to deal with creating content that’s relevant to those

Is there still a pronounced bifurcation between
acculturated second and third generations, and
first-generation Hispanics who have traditionally
been Spanish-dominant?

There’s an attitudinal change that’s manifesting itself
in all our research. It’s cool to
be Hispanic. The urge to acculturate
is not as important
or as fast as it’s been because
in the Hispanic culture, there’s
much more of a positive identity
about being Hispanic.

This isn’t always about language.
In fact, it’s always about
culture. In Hispanic media,
we are speaking to the culture.
Even if you’re acculturated,
the type of humor, the
stories that we tell, the way
we tell them and the co-viewing—
where first and second
and third generations watch
TV together—the content we
produce is very relatable, including
news, because we’re
dealing primarily with the
issues that affect the lives of
Hispanics living in the U.S.
The general market touches
on that ever so slightly because
it’s appealing to [a
general audience]. So, even
if you’re acculturated, there
is a cultural relevance that will resonate with all

The other thing that people don’t talk about very
much is that the quality of the content at Spanishlanguage
networks is now of general-market quality.
Whether it’s HD or the quality of productions,
we’re all on a much more even playing field. That’s
important. Quality is critical in this very competitive

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and follow her on Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie