Q&A: Telemundo's Michael Rodre;guez

Michael Rodríguez is a fan of Victoria, Telemundo’s ratings-busting telenovela. But he might be missing a few episodes these days. On March 11, the recently appointed vice president of sales for Telemundo and Mun2, began a four-week road show meeting with clients around the country. The push is part of NBC’s new approach to the traditional upfront presentation, which is replacing the annual glossy, star-studded event at Radio City Music Hall with what the network calls a “client-centric” approach to its programming. Rodríguez spoke to Hispanic TV Update about the ongoing itinerant presentations and the importance of producing its own content. An edited transcript follows:

Q: Telemundo this month kicked off a new sort of upfront presentation, labeled client-development meetings. What are these exactly and how are they organized?

A: These meetings are kind of an evolution from what we’ve done in the past few years. We started these client development meetings two years ago and they were hugely successful. So, this year we decided to evolve them even more and yes, it is sort of a road show. We’re going on the road for basically the entire month of March and we’re going to meet with clients and have a dialogue with them. As you know, we produce more original content than other Spanish-language network in the U.S. so one of the benefits of this is that we can sit down with the client and get their insights into what they feel and think is a hot issue; we communicate, have a dialogue and together [clients and us] develop a strategy. That is exactly why they are called client development meetings.

Q: You said you’ve done these meetings for the past two years. Has that been along with the upfronts?

A: They used to be in Miami and lasted only a few days, during which the clients would come to Miami. These meetings used to be very quick; we did a lot of things in a short period of time. The big difference now is that we are taking our entire senior staff with us, including Don Browne, Patricio Wills, Marcos Santana, Carlos Bardasano. We’re taking them on the road to clients, sitting down with them in their hometown making that experience beneficial to them. That’s the big difference.

Q: Where do they take place?

A: We kicked off [these meetings] on Monday, March 11, in Los Angeles, the first market. As part of NBC, we’re having all our meetings either at NBC or Telemundo properties so clients can see our programming, they get a chance to see Mun2 programming, our digital offerings, etc. After L.A. we’re doing four other major markets.

Q: Is YahooTelemundo included in these presentations?

A: Of course. We’re presenting our full capacity: production, the network, digital and [bilingual youth channel] Mun2. That’s the one thing we can do that the other guys cannot do. We sit down with our clients and present all our properties and tell them how our properties can help them reach the market. But let me be clear. It’s not just sales that’s going on there. It’s a sit down with clients to discuss production.

The difference between these [presentations] and our traditional upfront is that now we will be dialoguing, not monologuing, with clients. You know, the other guys are talking about programming that’s already been in the can; we are creating programming from scratch.

Q: NBC said it will still host a New York City event on May 12, the “NBC Universal Experience.” What exactly is that and what’s Telemundo’s role there?

A: I don’t want to speak on behalf of NBC. But I can tell you it is going to be a big experience, showcasing all of NBC properties and again we will be able to interact with our clients.

Q: What can clients expects in terms of new shows during these presentations?

A: Well, since we will be doing these client development meetings in March and April (two months before the rest of the networks) we cannot give out many specifics. All I can tell you is that we will be sitting down with clients, giving them a “menu” of opportunities that we believe are going to be very strong.

We’ve been testing what we have, our pilots and demos, and we have received very good feedback from research on our new products. And that’s just for the Telemundo network. But on the Mun2 side, we have a very strong foundation of programming which gives us the opportunity to focus on two or three areas that we can do very well with… so we’ll be highlighting some new shows on Mun2 as well.

We will show clients some of our big successes, including our weekends, which are testament that we have a very strong programming team.

Q: What type of programming is garnering strong ratings?

A: This February marked the 10th consecutive month that we posted growth year to year on Telemundo. A lot of that comes from our huge [telenovela] hit Victoria, which grew 40% from last year. [Victoria runs through the summer] On the weekends, we had a huge success with the daytime portion of it (Nitido, Descontrol,etc.). Sports continues to be the thing that holds the schedule down. We continue to do very well with soccer.

In primetime on weekends, because of our relationship with the studios and NBC Universal, we can showcase some terrific movies.

Q: You mentioned the huge success of Victoria. Are telenovelas still an integral part of Telemundo’s primetime programming?

A: Absolutely. And that takes us back to the importance of producing our own, original content. We made a promise four or five years ago to our clients about that, because we knew that was the future. Now the future has come and that’s where we are. At the end of the day, we realized content is king. You control your own content, you control your own destiny.

Q: What is going on with Idolos, the commercial -free novela Telemundo pitched during last year’s upfront presentation?

A: [Idolos] is a very bold step. We are still in discussions about it. The proposition was kind of a shock to the advertising community. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen exactly the way we presented it, but it was one of those things that was just a great idea. It’s just a matter to see whether the timing works with the advertising community.

Q: What do you tell those advertisers that demand huge ratings events such as Univision’s Premio lo Nuestro? Can Telemundo deliver such audiences?

A: Everybody has their day in the sun. I know Premio is a big success for Univision. We have great specials for us, such as Miss Universe and the Latin Billboard Awards, which is a huge attraction, but we have some great offerings in the 2008/09 season. Keep in mind that the word “special” means something; these [shows] don’t happen on a daily basis. Everything boils down to one thing: original content. And that is a critical part of our strategy. We have very good, strong products and we are only now benefiting from the investment we made a few years ago in terms of producing our own content. They (Univision) built a model with programming from someone else. For us it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where we are.