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Telemundo's Zel Seeks ‘Relevance, Quality’

New York -- Concluding the Fourth Annual Hispanic Summit 2006 at the Copacabana here Thursday was keynote speaker and senior executive vice president of network strategy for Telemundo Networks Antoinette Zel, who said the bar for relevance and quality in Hispanic-oriented programming had to be raised.

Paramount in that struggle is moving the needle on the diversity issue and dispelling the stereotypes, she said. Zel gave the example of a recent trip to her sons’ school, where a teacher confessed to Zel just how funny she found the game shows and talk shows on “those channels.”

“She’s not laughing with the shows, she’s laughing at the shows,” she added.

The Telemundo executive went on to draw a parallel between Hispanic programming and the evolution of African-American programming, which evolved from shows like Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to a demographic level ingrained in the fabric of society.

Yet despite the fact that the U.S. Hispanic population is now talked about every day in the media, Hispanic programming has not reached the respected completeness of African-American programming. And if people -- such as the teacher Zel encountered -- used Hispanic TV as a window into Latin cultures, then the view was incomplete.

Another of her comments at the closing was that Univision, the largest Spanish-language television network in the United States, may sometimes beat the Big Four -- Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS -- in ratings, but the programming was still behind. “Scale does not legitimize relevance and quality,” she added.

Zel presented a chart plotting the evolution of immigrant viewers from their time of arrival in the United States to the time they are most assimilated. While programming might address the extreme ends, she pointed to a large segment of people who are somewhere in between: longing for their home country, maintaining strong national identity, but also investing heavily in what this country has to offer.

“There’s a hybrid audience between extremes that both broadcast and cable have historically left behind,” she said, adding that there are advertisers looking to that audience.

Zel went on to applaud the leap from six networks at the dawn of Hispanic-oriented programming to more than 75 today, yet she stressed the question: “Are we satisfied with the relevance and quality on those 75 networks?”

Wrapping up the summit, Zel closed with a pearl from her sons’ favorite, Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”