Cesar Conde's New Beginning
by jon warech
Some 2,700 miles away from the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles is an office in Doral that overlooks swaying palm trees and a perfectly manicured golf course. It’s not flashy or pretentious, and you don’t walk past a fake New York City street or shrubbery shaped like Mickey Mouse to get there, but in it, former president of Univision Networks Cesar Conde ran the number-one network in America. Not Latin America or Central America. The United States of America.
Number one—it’s a title the Spanish-language network earned for the first time in July by beating out CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and every other network on TV in the Nielsen ratings for adults ages 18 to 49 and adults ages 18 to 34. For Conde, who oversaw all 12 Univision Communication television networks and Univision Studios, it was a victory that would more than just catch the eye of his competitors. On September 13, Conde announced he was stepping down from his role at Univision to “ pursue opportunities in English language media,” specifically NBCUniversal, as executive vice president in charge of international business.
The ratings victory and the growth of the company allowed Conde to go out on top, and on his terms. “His experience leading multiple domestic and international businesses will be instrumental in maximizing all the opportunities to grow our portfolio,” says his new boss at NBCUniversal, Chief Executive Steve Burke.
Conde has reason to be proud. “It’s a historic milestone for Univision, but also for Hispanic media in general, and really, at the end of the day, for the Latino community in the United States,” he acknowledges of the success at Univision. “It signals the growing influence and the growing impact that this community is having nationally.”
But Conde, 39, and Univision didn’t get there overnight. The Miami native (he graduated from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School) joined Univision—a network that turned 50 last year—a decade ago. He became its president in 2009, spearheading innovative changes that turned a niche media company into a mainstream success. While he’ll modestly talk about the people who came before him, it’s the moves made under his watch that have led Univision to the top of the ratings game.
It all started with programming, a category in which Univision is blazing a trail in the entertainment industry. The networks under the Univision umbrella produce new, original content 365 days a year and focus on “DVR-proof” programs such as sports, news, and telenovelas that run nightly in prime time and give fans only a 24-hour window to catch up, forcing them to watch shows live.
The way the networks use their time and their talent also helps. While English soap operas have struggled to stay on the air by running storylines that last a lifetime, and using actors that are often upand-coming or down-and-falling stars, Univision’s telenovelas stick to a strict 120-episode storyline and feature some of the hottest talent in the industry.
“The Hollywood of Hispanic media is prime-time telenovelas on Univision,” Conde says. “Our Brad Pitt is William Levy from our 8 pm novela. Our audience gets to see Brad Pitt every single night.”
More than just a ratings machine, Univision’s mission is to “inform, entertain, and empower,” and Conde put extra emphasis on the empowerment part as he worked on charitable efforts to improve education, healthcare, and civic engagement in the Hispanic community. Univision partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a national education initiative called Es El Momento (The Moment Is Now) that creates scholarships and grants, and teaches the community about the importance of education. In three years, Conde says, they’ve seen a 22 percent increase in college applications. In a partnership with Teleton USA Foundation, Univision also aired a 28-hour live telethon in December 2012 and raised $15.2 million toward building rehabilitation centers and to benefit children with disabilities, cancer, and autism, as well as help existing facilities like Miami Children’s Hospital. Conde’s love of education and passion for giving back stem from his mother and father, who as immigrants from Cuba and Peru, respectively, instilled these values in Conde and his two brothers from day one.
“My parents very much see the world from that immigrant experience, so they passed that along to us,” he says. “The saying that we were always told was that the only thing in the world no one can take from you is your education. I couldn’t believe that more, and I carry that with me today. The second thing that we were taught, my brothers and I, was the concept of dream big, work hard, and stay humble. Dream big, and literally anything is possible in this country.”
He is quick to acknowledge the help he’s had along the way. From his parents to the education he received while earning his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to his time working under then-Secretary of State Colin Powell while serving as a White House Fellow, Conde has soaked up everything he learned and put it into his vision at Univision.
Conde has left the company in good standing, with continued growth. Univision is pushing its way through the mainstream by launching English-speaking channels like Fusion (a joint venture with ABC)—a news, lifestyle, and information network—on October 28, and El Rey, a partnership with Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez set to launch at the beginning of next year. It also signed a major television deal with the Mexican soccer club Chivas de Guadalajara, and even has plans for a Spanish version of Breaking Bad, slated to air in 2014.
Roughly 52 million Hispanic Americans populate the United States, and under Conde’s watchful eye, the Miami-based network became America’s network. It’s a dream come true for Conde.
“I grew up watching a lot of Univision,” he says. “That’s the news and the sports that I watched. In the same breath, I also watched English content. I watched Seinfeld. I watched Friends. I really felt that I wasn’t one or the other. I felt like I was 100 percent American and 100 percent Latino. It’s that 200 percent concept that shows you that these cultures were additive. They weren’t subtractive. I think that’s a healthy thing. It’s something that makes this experience unique.” Now, as Conde takes on a new role, he’ll get a chance to fully merge those two cultures.
photography by Nick Garcia; BY GUSTAVO CABALLERO/GETTY IMAGES FOR UNIVISION (SILVA CONDE); COURTESY OF UNIVISION (HAYEK)