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Seeing TV as Window on What’s Possible

In hindsight, you can see Cesar Conde’s pathway. Not at first; early in his career, when, as he said, “it took me a bit of time to figure out where to work,” the graduate of Harvard, with an MBA from Wharton Business School as well, became an investment banker on Wall Street. “It gave me great exposure to finance,” he said. Then, during the first internet boom, he moved to a startup called Star Media, getting some valuable web experience.

But it was Conde’s next post that focused him, leading him to become the most successful and influential strategy player in Hispanic media as, ultimately, chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. That move came in 2002, when he got the opportunity to work in the White House, as a fellow assigned to Gen. Colin Powell, in the role of special assistant to the then-Secretary of State.

“In retrospect, that great experience gave me training in skills relevant to me even today,” he said. “More than anything, it was a lesson in leadership, watching the general run what is, essentially, a Fortune 50 or 100 global company. Second, it taught me how the public and private sectors work closely together. But the big thing that stuck with me — and it was a career-changing insight — was, from that perch, I was able to really understand, if practiced responsibly, what effect media could have on our country and our society.”

15th Annual NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards

That led Conde to Univision, where he spent five years in a variety of executive positions, followed by five years as president. There, he honed what has become a signature set of strategies, mixing the creation and promotion of ratings worthy content with initiatives meant to engage a growing Hispanic audience.

A Passion for Hispanic TV

“Hispanic media was still in its evolution,” he said. “I felt very passionate about my roots and heritage, and helping in that evolution; being able to contribute to maximizing that potential appealed to me.”

Indeed, it brought him back to the wonders of growing up in Miami, watching TV with his two younger brothers. They were children of immigrants — Conde’s father had come from Peru, his mother from Cuba. The kids spoke Spanish and were educated in U.S. schools, and understood early the pride of balancing “the tremendous strength and roots and where our heritage came from, speaking Spanish and consuming Spanish media,” alongside English-speaking culture. It is where Conde said he came to understand “the changing face of America.”

The family watched Sábado Gigante on Univision, the three-hour Saturday night extravaganza hosted by the legendary Don Francisco that still holds the record as longest-running variety program in TV history. Back then, for Conde, TV wasn’t a future; it was “a window into what could be possible.”

The idea of “what could be possible” hit its first high for Conde when, in July 2013, Univision became the top-rated U.S. network, regardless of language; under Conde’s tenure, Univision grew from three to 12 broadcast and cable networks.

But the dream was fully realized in October of that year, when he joined NBCUniversal as executive vice president, overseeing NBCU International and NBCU Digital Enterprises. In time, he added Telemundo to his purview, and set about transforming the way Hispanic audiences think of programming meant for them.

Now chairman of the International Group and Telemundo, Conde’s accomplishments speak to that consistent vision of combining responsible action with incisive and imaginative strategy.

Telemundo now ranks as the No. 1 Spanish-language network in weekday primetime among Latinos. Part of Conde’s plan has been to replace the telenovelas that have long dominated Hispanic programming with ripped-from-the-headlines programs “created for U.S. Hispanics by U.S. Hispanics,” Conde said.

It was a risky bet that has already started to pay off for Telemundo, which created a new brand of “superseries” with different genres, shorter seasons and other hallmarks of non-Spanish-language programming. The update, Conde felt, was required in a world where “television is not a habit for Latinos; it’s becoming a choice. We wanted to make sure we were a very clear choice for Latinos to make.”

Social, Community Commitments

Telemundo’s other great lure — and one that also brings Conde back to childhood — came with securing Spanish-language World Cup rights beginning this summer. And while fans come for all the action, they may also stay for “El Poder En Ti,” Telemundo’s corporate social responsibility platform, meant to empower audiences in three areas: education, health and finance. (The phrase translates to “The Power in You.”)

Conde’s commitment to community and diversity can be felt throughout the company, from the state-of-the-art global Telemundo Enterprises headquarters opening this quarter in South Florida, to the $13 million the company’s telethon raised last year to help rebuild storm-ravaged areas. “Cesar has made social and community initiatives part of the core of what Telemundo is all about,” said DavidCohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Comcast NBCUniversal. “Cesar’s an incredibly accomplished media exec. But equally important, his values are so strong, and he has such an enormous commitment to community, he really helps to grow and preserve a culture at Comcast NBCU and at Telemundo where our company and employees understand the value of giving back.”

It’s a combined commitment to excellence that harkens back to the career of Brandon Tartikoff, which makes Conde feel this honor most pointedly.

“I take a great deal of inspiration from Brandon’s visionary thinking, of ensuring your stories are universal stories with characters that can speak to anyone in a unique way,” Conde said. “But this honor goes beyond me and Telemundo. The youth in our country and around the world look to the media to find role models; if we can continue to populate our industries with today’s leaders, hopefully we’ll be inspiring tomorrow’s leaders as well.”