From a pure numbers perspective, Telemundo's primetime "Super Series" El Señor de Los Cielos does not compare to some of the English-language network primetime drama programming hits that over the years helped turn network viewership around.
Its total audience this season of 1.9 million viewers per night and its 1.1 million viewers in the 18-49 demo pale in comparison to ABC drama series Lost, for example, which premiered in 2004 averaging 16 million viewers and helped turn that network around at the time.
But what El Señor and the rest of the 10 p.m. Super Series programming has done for the network in the Hispanic TV universe is to propel Telemundo past rival Univision for the first time ever in Monday through Friday primetime during a full 2016-2017 TV season in both the 18-34 and 18-49 demos. And that's quite an accomplishment since just five years ago, in the 2011-12 Hispanic broadcast TV season, Univision was averaging 2.1 million viewers 18-49 in weeknight primetime, compared to Telemundo's 734,000, according to Nielsen data.
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El Señor has been the most-watched Telemundo series since it came on the air in the spring of 2013, averaging 2.1 million total viewers and 1.2 million 18-49 viewers per night over that five season period. However, the other 10 p.m. Super Series that it has shared the time period with have also produced better ratings by a siginificiant margin than the traditional novelas that Telemundo had been running in the hour prior to that.
Super Series El Chema, an El Señor spinoff, had earlier last season in the 10 p.m. time period averaged 2 million total viewers, 1.1 million among 18-49 viewers and 562,000 in the 18-34 demo. That outperformed Univision at 10 p.m. by 21% in 18-49 viewers and 33% in 18-34.
"We made the decision four years ago to look at our programming differently, to redefine it," said Telemundo president Luis Silberwasser.
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To make inroads into the large viewership lead that Univision held in Monday to Friday primetime, Silberwasser said Telemundo decided to scrap its traditional novelas, which would run for one cycle at 110 or more episodes. And it began replacing them at 10 p.m. with what it called Super Series, which run for between 60 and 80 episodes and are brought back with new second and third cycles, much like the drama series on English-language television. El Señor de los Cielos is now in its fifth season.
"Our goal was more relevant and contemporary stories, more themes and storylines touching on what U.S. Hispanics are encountering in their daily lives, and programming ripped from the headlines," Silberwasser said.
Telemundo also got into the production of biopics. And that was all made possible because the network operates its own studios in Miami, Mexico and Colombia so it can tailor its programming and series specifically to its audience.
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"We spend a lot of time trying to understand our viewers and determine who was watching in each of our primetime hours," Silberwasser says. "And we decided to no longer produce traditional novelas but to instead produce based more on the model traditional TV series."
In addition to El Señor de Los Cielos at 10 p.m., Telemundo most recently has been running Jenni Rivera: Mariposa de Barrio at 8 p.m. and Sin Senos Si Hay Paraíso at 9 p.m.
Mariposa de Barrio is a series based on the autobiography Unbreakable: My Story, My Way, written by actress, singer and songwriter Jenni Rivera before her death. It has averaged 1.4 million total viewers since premiering in late June.
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Sin Senos Si Hay Paraíso is a remake and loose adaptation of a Colombian telenovela that dates back to 2008. Silberwasser said Telemundo got the creator to update the story and it was brought back not as a novella but as a drama series after Telemundo filmed it at its studios. It is now in its second season.
"It's great when you can depend on yourself to create your own programming," Silberwasser says. "We can customize all of the content and tie it into our audiences."
For the 2016-17 Hispanic broadcast television season, Univision won the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. primetime total viewer race in the live plus same day, live-plus-three-day and live-plus-seven day measurements, each by about 200,000 viewers. And Univision did edge out Telemundo among live-plus-same-day 18-49 demo viewers – 812,000 to 802,000.
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However, Telemundo for the first time ever, drew more viewers in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos in the live plus-same-day, live plus-three-day and live plus-seven-day measurement periods. In live plus-same-day 18-34, Telemundo edged out Univision 371,000 viewers to 365,000. In 18-34 live plus-three-day Telemundo 395,000 and Univision 375,000 and in 18-49 it was Telemundo 852,000 and Univision 838,000. In live plus-seven-day, among 18-34 it was Telemundo 399,000 and Univision 377,000 and among 18-49 it was Telemundo 861,000 and Univision 843,000.
The numbers are close, but when you overtake the competition for the first time ever, it is big news for the insurgent network.
"It's a very exciting time to be Telemundo right now," said Stephen Paez, senior VP and director of multicultural at media agency Spark Foundry. "Their success has put them top of mind among ad buyers. It has positioned them as a stronger competitor to Univision. Investment follows viewership and Telemundo does have more compelling story now."
Paez added that it speaks to the fact that among the broadcast networks, the Hispanic networks have a much younger audience than the English-language networks and the Hispanic networks have closed the gap in the younger demos.
"There is a huge percentage of millennials watching Hispanic television and with Telemundo's success it will draw more ad dollars from the broadcast networks into Hispanic TV overall," Paez said.
In fact, 52% of the U.S. Hispanic population is under 30, according to U.S. Census figures. And Telemundo has the largest composition of adults 18-34 — 24% — of total viewers among all broadcast networks regardless of language.
Dana Bonkowski, senior VP, multicultural lead for Starcom, said, "No one should be surprised by Telemundo's success. They have been loyal to their plan of targeting a younger, bilingual audience. Their success is exciting not only for them but for the entire Hispanic marketplace."
Bonkowski said while both Univision and Telemundo each have a role to play for marketers buying Hispanic TV advertising, Telemundo's strong increases in the demo race validates them in the marketplace.
"Telemundo was always part of the ad buying mix, but now they are more of a force," she said. "And Telemundo gives us different ways to reach the Hispanic audience that continues to grow."
"If there is a brand that wasn't advertising with Telemundo before, they should be now," Bonkowski added.
Since the Hispanic broadcast networks run first-run programming year around, including the summer, and the new season starts in conjunction with the English-language networks (Sept. 25), both Telemundo and Univision have series running to start the fall season that began during the summer.
Since coming on the air this summer, Jenni Rivera: Mariposa de Barrio has averaged 1.4 million viewers and 667,000 18-49 viewers at 8 p.m. Sin Senos si Hay Paraíso has averaged 1.7 million and 883,000 18-49 viewers and El Señor de los Cielos has averaged 1.9 million and a 0.8 and 1.1. million 18-49 viewers.
For Univision, Enamorándome de Ramón, at 8 p.m. has averaged 1.4 million viewers and 644,000 18-49 vewers. Mi Mando Tiene Familia at 9 p.m. has averaged 1.5 million viewers and 740,000 18-49 Hoy Voy a Cambiar at 10 p.m. has averaged 1.2 million and 416,000 18-49 viewers.
While Telemundo has been making inroads in the 18-49 demo, Univision has not been sitting idly by. As most media buyers acknowledge, Univision in recent years has been hamstrung because it is locked into a deal under which it must run Televisa novelas that have previously aired in Mexico and may have some sensibilities that many of the growing number of millennial and bilingual U.S. Hispanics don't relate to as much.
However, Univision has also been producing its own original scripted programming to air on weeknights in primetime both from its own studio, Story House Entertainment, and its joint venture with Patricio Wills, W Studios. Both of those studios are focusing on producing dramas aimed at a younger, multicultural audience that transcends borders.
While some of that programming, like biopic drama series El Chapo, based on the rise and fall Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman, has run on weekends and produced strong ratings outside of M-F primetime, other drama series departing from traditional novelas have aired at 10 p.m. as Univision attempts to put a dent in the Telemundo Super Series hour.
Univision ran a W Studios-produced drama series La Piloto, about a female pilot who becomes a drug smuggler, at 10 p.m. Monday through Friday from March through May and it averaged 1.6 million viewers and 786,000 18-49 viewers. It did so well Univision has renewed it for a second season. So Univision has had some success at 10 p.m. vs. the Telemundo Super Series.
However, Univision's current 10 p.m. Monday through Friday show, Hoy Voy a Cambiar a bio-series that chronicles the life of Mexican singer Lupita D'Alessio over a period of five decades, is not faring that well against El Señor de los Cielos. The Univision series is averaging 1.2 million total viewers and 416,000 18-49 demo viewers, significantly lower than El Señor's 1.9 million and 1.1 million in the demo.
Univision did have major success with its earlier summer 8 p.m. novella Jose de Egipto which averaged 2 million viewers and 780,000 in the 18-49 demo, to outdraw Telemundo's Jenni Rivera: Mariposa de Barrio.
While Telemundo has gained a lot of mileage promoting its Monday through Friday primetime demo victories, Univision is still touting the fact that they draw the most total viewers each season and have for the past 25 years.
And while Telemundo has surpassed them in the 18-34 and 18-49 demos in primetime on Monday through Friday, when you add in weekend prime and total day, Univision is still the weekly leader in those demos.
With the new season having just begun, and Univision committed to doing more programming targeting millennial Hispanics in its effort to regain the week night demo lead, Telemundo's Silberwasser said it is imperative that his network not take its foot off the gas when it comes to its programming.
"Five years ago, Univision had a major ratings and ad revenue gap over us," he said. "Today it's a two-horse race. We want to continue the momentum. We want to keep getting more contemporary throughout primetime."
One advantage he believes Telemundo will have is its month-long telecast of the FIFA World Cup matches this summer from Russia.
"We have the opportunity to reach people who have never watched Telemundo before," he said. "They will come in to watch the Cup matches and we can promote the network to them. We are hoping to put on some of our best programming surrounding the World Cup. And what will help is that the Games from Russia will mostly air live in the mornings and afternoons, so we can use those telecasts to drive people to our primetime lineup. Keep them coming back at night. We are going to be very strategic about how we schedule our shows around the World Cup."
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