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New HRTS Corporate profile: Televisa USA

Televisa USA logoTelevisa USA is the American studio arm of Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa, the largest creator and provider of Spanish-language programming in the world, and produces English-language programming based on formats and original concepts. I recently had a chance to interview Paul Presburger - Managing Director (and also CEO of Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Televisa and Lionsgate), Michael Garcia - Chief Creative Officer, and Ryan Likes - Chief of Operations and Business Affairs, to discuss financing, development and demographics.

-Q: Can you tell us about Televisa USA’s background and mandate?
Paul Presburger: Our mandate is to be Televisa’s U.S. TV studio. We’re staffing up, have a very aggressive business plan and a mandate that requires us to develop, produce, finance and distribute a large number of high-quality, mainstream scripted and unscripted productions over the next three to four years.

Essentially, we want to become the Latino Major in the U.S. We’re a division of the largest producer and distributor of Spanish-language content in the world, which gives us unparalleled access to both the top names—many of whom got their starts on Televisa—and global formats, thanks in part to our unique access to Grupo Televisa’s enormous library that includes many of the world’s most popular telenovelas.

While we have the ability to finance projects on our own, we want to partner with all of the leading talent, producers, studios and networks interested in co-productions that can attract this dynamic audience. We’re even willing to look at innovative deal structures, developing and producing projects on spec if they make sense. We have the financial wherewithal to help with development funds and debt to financing needs.

Our involvement encompasses a multitude of genres, including scripted dramas, comedies and a variety of unscripted formats covering all key demos. We have already succeeded in producing scripted shows capable of significantly over-indexing the rapidly growing audience of American-born or English-language Latinos who are playing such a major role in our culture today.

Paul Presburger headshot

Paul Presburger

-Q: Why did you join as an HRTS corporate member?
Michael Garcia: As Televisa looks to plant a flag in the U.S., we know that getting the word out to the market is as important as our programming efforts. We also know that industry relationships are crucial to success here, and HRTS is a way to achieve both those objectives under one roof. Being a corporate member gives us the opportunity to attend not only the informational luncheons but also special events that will help build our profile in the community.

-Q: What most excites you about your company?
Ryan Likes: We’re coming up at the right time to take advantage of changing demographics. We have several unique competitive advantages that allow us to access opportunities that no one else can, whether through our relationships with Latino talent, ownership of or access to formats or deep understanding of the Latino market. Each of these advantages make Televisa USA a great partner, along with our access to capital. For example, our format rights led to the popular Lifetime series Devious Maids, which we are producing in collaboration with ABC Studios and Executive Producer Marc Cherry, and which was recently renewed for a second season.‎

Our studio partnerships will also play a critical role in our success. While we don’t need another studio to move forward on a project, our general preference is to partner. And we have been fortunate to have had great experiences with several different U.S. television studios to date, in particular with Lionsgate under our South Shore television venture. Our first produced project with Lionsgate will be Chasing Life, a dramedy for ABC Family debuting next year about a young reporter who balances work, family and romance, all while concealing the fact she’s been diagnosed with leukemia. This will be a high-quality production adapted from Televisa’s Spanish-language Mexican television series, Terminales.

When we are able to leverage our unique competitive advantages on a project, both on our own and with our studio partners, I don’t think anyone can touch us in this space.

-Q: How do you see the television business changing over the next few years?
PP: The business will be shaped by both traditional and emerging business models, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, OTT services, DirecTV and others hungry for original programming concepts that will capture the general market audience and over index with the U.S.-born and English-speaking Hispanic audience. It is important for us not to be wedged into any one particular business model but to work with all of the key players. In the months and years ahead, that is exactly what you will be seeing from us.

Michael Garcia headshot

Michael Garcia

-Q: What sorts of shows are you looking to develop and produce?
MG: In terms of targets, we are focusing mainly on cable hours, though we are developing half-hours and some broadcast fare as well. A key part of our content strategy is utilizing our strength in Latin America and bringing that to the table in various ways. For instance, we are working with a number of formats from Latin America, developing shows with cross-over stars, as well as developing shows with Latin writers and directors. While our shows are designed to be general market, I would like for each to have a significant role, or roles, for Latin characters. The perfect shows for us are ones with general market foundations that over-index in the U.S. Hispanic demographic, something I call, “Latin Feel. American Appeal.”

RL: Shows that make money.

-Q: What can you tell us about your joint venture with Lionsgate?
PP: We are long-term strategic partners on many levels. As our chief creative officer, Michael is spearheading our TV projects for both the South Shore venture and Televisa USA, creating programming with wide appeal to mainstream and Latino audiences.

Our goal is to develop original, headline-grabbing content, both on our own and with Lionsgate. We have a number of scripted and unscripted series in development, as well as talent deals, with Lionsgate. We’ve concluded first-look producer deals with George Lopez, Zoe Saldana and Wilmer Valderrama, all of which have been announced this past year, with more on the way. Those deals each had both a TV and feature component through our sister company Pantelion Films, the Televisa and Lionsgate feature joint venture that I also oversee.

While there are many intersections between the companies, Pantelion is the film studio and Televisa USA is the television studio. In the South Shore television venture, we work in close contact with Kevin Beggs and his team.

-Q: How are development and programming similar or different for domestic audiences versus international?
MG: the best way to look at it is to examine the types of shows that are available to consumers. Take the telenovela, for example. In Mexico, it is a staple of the daily programming grid, so that is the focus of our development emphasis there. In the U.S., however, there are very few outlets interested in programming an English-language drama series five nights per week. We have produced only one in the U.S. so far, Hollywood Heights, for Teen Nick, which ran for 80 episodes. As time goes on, we hope and believe that this style of programming will become more common, thereby justifying a greater emphasis on developing these so-called “daily series.”

Another example would be the 60-episode series from Latin America, which we produce internationally but not in the U.S., since the format doesn’t exist here. It is almost a combination of a traditional drama series and a telenovela, roughly the length of a 13x5 series, but it airs four or five nights per week. Meanwhile, in Spain, one might see a 70-minute comedy.

In short, international programming is different because there are more types of shows and more formatting options available for the consumer than in the U.S. market, resulting in a different development approach.

Ryan Likes Headshot

Ryan Likes

Also, household viewing habits are different outside of the U.S. In Mexico, there is a dramatic decrease in viewership (HUT/PUT levels) after 10:30 p.m., because family schedules are different in a Mexican household than in a U.S. household. Mexican audiences are also used to watching a show every night of the week, which is wonderful from a programming perspective, because it adds a tremendous amount of predictability and stability to the programmer’s lineup. Domestic viewers don’t have this viewing habit.

Although international shows can take so many forms and display different viewing habits, they can all be reduced to the same common denominator - storytelling. All audiences love drama, suspense, romance and laughter. In this way, developing and programming is the same around the world. It’s the reason why a show we produce in Mexico can sell into countries as diverse as Russia, the Philippines, Kenya and the U.S.

-Q: At what point in the development process do you feel like you might have a hit?
MG: I usually don’t get excited about a show until I have seen the first draft of the script. I’ve read enough scripts to know when something is working and when it isn’t. Every once in a while, however, an underlying literary property comes along that I think could be the beginning of a hit show; basically it is the same thing—a written piece—just done in a different format. I think it all starts on the page.

-Q: Do you focus on international co-productions?
RL: We have international co-productions in various stages of development with our partners around the world and anticipate that they will play a meaningful role for us going forward. But, generally speaking, people should think of Televisa USA as a traditional U.S. studio, just as they do with Lionsgate and eOne. As Grupo Televisa’s U.S. television studio arm, our primary focus will be on developing, financing and producing original programming for U.S. networks, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the like and then, of course, distributing that content worldwide.

Q: What is your working relationship with partners such as Univision?
RL: Televisa is the largest stakeholder in and leading content provider to Univision. That close relationship has helped Univision to routinely surpass some of the Big Four U.S. broadcast networks. As Univision ventures more into English-language programming, which started with its millennial-focused Fusion co-venture with ABC News and has progressed to the El Rey Network with Robert Rodriguez, we are excited about the synergistic opportunities that will organically develop.

 

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