EXCLUSIVE: Univision's Cesar Conde On Why Telenovelas Are Winning While English Soaps Are Dying

During its upfront presentation in New York City today, Univision is unveiling expanded content with its key partner Televisa across all television and interactive platforms as well as nearly 500 hours of original, Spanish-language programming in primetime and late night. And that’s not all—the Spanish-language giant is also announcing three new networks titled Univision TL Novelas, Univision Deportes, and Univision 24/7, which will focus exclusively on telenovelas, sports, and news, respectively, and bow in 2012.

The new 2011-2012 programming will continue Univision’s ratings momentum vs. ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX and secure its place as one of the top five networks in the United States, regardless of language.

On the new programming slate is a reality show titled Protagonistas, where aspiring actors must demonstrate that they have what it takes to be the next big novela star.

Two of the new novelas for the 2011-2012 season include Dos Hogares, starring singer/actress Anahi of the Mexican pop group RBD, and Puerto Rican Carlos Ponce, and Talisman, starring Mexican beauty Blanca Soto, who became a star via Univision’s Eva Luna last year.

During a conference call with members of the press yesterday, Univision Networks President Cesar Conde answered a few key questions. Check out what he has to say about the success of novelas versus long-running English-language soaps, which seem to be getting cancelled at an alarming rate.

We’re very interested in knowing why telenovelas are such breakout hits when soap operas are clearly failing in the United States. With the launch of a whole new network dedicated exclusively to novelas, it seems the formula is working.

CC: The novela genre, to put it simply, is a force of nature. This has been a genre that has been extraordinarily successful not just here in the United States and in the Hispanic market, but in markets all around the world. There are big fundamental differences between what a novela is and what a “soap opera” is here in the U.S. First, novelas have a beginning and have an end. Usually they are approximately 100-120 episodes. So that’s important because our viewers make a commitment but they also know that there’s a culmination. I think the second thing that I always like to point out is that the apex for top [TV] talent in Hispanic media is not to go to Hollywood and conquer the English language base, but rather the biggest achievement they can make is to be on a top-rated novela. And so when you take that into account and the fact that we are airing this one hour a day, Monday through Friday, and we have our George Clooney and our Julia Roberts on the air every single night— that makes it a very, very compelling genre. The third thing is these are very universally appealing stories that are attractive across generations. Obviously, there are variations in terms of the story lines, but the fact that mothers and daughters (even though they won’t admit it sometimes) are all watching these novelas, makes it very appealing not only for us as ratings-grabbers but I think also for our [programming/content] partners.

Is there something to say about how Univision treats its stars that retains and attracts top talent, as you say, the equivalent of the George Clooneys and Julia Roberts?

CC: Sure. I think there are few things that are going on. I think Univision is the most recognized, the most trusted brand in its community. So it’s like anything: the best want to work with the best. We have been able to attract and retain the best novela talent throughout the years. Second, we happen to have the best partner when it comes to the development of novelas worldwide and that’s [Mexican media giant] Televisa. That’s clearly a big advantage for us. The third thing I’ll point out is that we also have the capability—and this is equally important— to develop new stars. And that was shown off this past year with our novela Eva Luna, starring Blanca Soto, who made her big debut in the genre via that novela, and today she is arguably Hispanic America’s newest sweetheart. So I think all those things play into it.