PHILADELPHIA – Cesar Conde, the head of Comcast-owned Telemundo network, peppers his conversation with references to popular American cable shows "Homeland" and "Breaking Bad," and says it feels like a new era in Spanish-language TV.
There is, Conde said, "a tectonic shift taking place in Hispanic media."
And Philadelphia's Comcast — which acquired the also-ran Telemundo network as part of its $30 billion deal for NBCUniversal in 2011 — is aiming to be a big part of it.
The nation's cable giant, with tentacles all over the media landscape, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to take on the No. 1 Spanish-language network, Univision, by developing faster-paced Americanized dramas, locking up the TV rights to World Cup Soccer into the 2020s, and launching live local newscasts in big TV markets, such as Philadelphia.
The winner of this pitched TV battle for eyeballs will gain the largest access to a fast-growing Hispanic market that is expected to account for 40 percent of the U.S. household formations over the next decade and grow to 77 million Hispanics by 2030 from today's 57 million.
"Comcast isn't investing into Telemundo because they love Mexicans," said Alex Nogales, CEO of the advocacy group National Hispanic Media Coalition. "They are doing it because it was a great business proposition."
Added Nogales: "Telemundo has been the stepchild of Hispanic media for many years. Now they have a big sugar daddy and they can compete."
The results have been impressive so far: Telemundo has narrowed Univision's 2.4 million prime-time viewer lead in 2011 to 923,000 viewers in 2015, according to Nielsen figures provided by Telemundo. This is for weekdays.
The Nielsen numbers also show that Univision's average weekday prime-time audience has fallen to 2.6 million viewers today from 3.7 million in 2011, which partly reflects the broad declines in TV viewership across the industry.
Telemundo's prime-time audience, moreover, grew to 1.7 million from 1.3 million over the same period. Telemundo officials believe they are taking Hispanic market share from rival Univision.
Telemundo attributes the positive ratings trends to its 10 p.m. "super series," one of the new faster-paced American-style dramas. Among the most popular has been "El Senior de Los Cielos" ("Lord of the Skies") about a narco-trafficker who comes back from the dead, which aired its third season in 2015.
Nogales, of the Hispanic media coalition, said that Telemundo "hit the jackpot" with the shows, comparing them to "The Godfather" movies with antiheroes.
Now solid at the 10 p.m. time slot, Telemundo is targeting 8 p.m. with a "bio-musical," or a fictionalized musical drama. The current one is of Cuban salsa queen Celia Cruz.
"It is basically changing the model of what Spanish-language programming looks like," said Telemundo spokeswoman Michelle Alban.
Felix Gutierrez, professor emeritus at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said that Telemundo appears to have found a niche by producing Americanized shows that connect with Hispanics instead of importing telenovelas from Mexico.
Univision spokeswoman Esther Tejeda said Univision remains popular with audiences and beats the English-language networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox on some nights. One recent Saturday, she said, "Univision ranked as the No. 3 network," beating NBC and Fox.
Univision Communications Inc. — whose owners include billionaire Haim Saban, Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, TPG, and Thomas H. Lee Partners — recently postponed its initial public offering.
Univision's board postponed the IPO until early 2016 because of the poor performance of media-company stocks and a weak market for first-time share sales, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.
The programmer, which includes Spanish-language cable networks and digital properties, went private in 2007 in a $13.7 billion debt-laden deal and its partners have been seeking an exit.
In a filing with regulatory authorities, Univision reported $2.9 billion in revenue and $900,000 in profits for 2014. Bloomberg estimates that the Univision TV broadcast network generated $1.1 billion in advertising revenue in 2014. Telemundo had $457 million, a 35 percent jump from 2011, according to Bloomberg.