With only two weeks to launch – on August 13 – Media Moves sat down for a candid conversation with Emiliano Saccone, who reveals the idea for MundoFox was born 8 years ago. He talks about his background, the Hispanic market and shares his vision for MundoFox.
Saccone was named President of MundoFox in March of this year after working 13 years for Fox International Channels (FIC). His wealth of experience, including his most recent position as President of Entertainment and Executive Vice President of Content of FIC, and the fact he was the person who first conceptualized a Fox-branded Spanish-language broadcast network in the U.S., convinced company executives he was the right person to run MundoFox.
Saccone, a UCLA-trained executive, began his career as a creative at the L.A. ad agency Casanova Pendrill in Los Angeles, before jumping ship to the television industry.
How did your ad agency experience help you transition to your television career at Fox?
I fall into what many people describe as a creative. When I moved to Los Angeles Casanova Pendrill hired me as a copywriter. I stayed for 5 years until I became general creative director, overseeing big national Hispanic accounts.
In 1995, I was offered a job at Fox Latin American channels. I became creative director for on-air. I had been in advertising, coming up with ad campaigns on the creative side and then I moved to a different industry, but doing more or less the same. I was in charge of the on-air department, which has a lot in common with writing commercials, except that for TV you’re doing it to promote television shows, so in a way it was a pretty seamless transition.
Things got a lot more interesting and intricate as the years went by. Over the years I turned on my left brain in addition to my right brain. I did an MBA and became more in touch with the business side of our industry.
How would you describe your evolution at Fox?
I would put my evolution into a single word: Hernán. I’m referring to my longtime boss and friend Hernán López. I give myself a lot of credit for wanting to evolve at both on a human and professional level, but I give Hernán a lot of credit for mentoring me and being there for me as a friend as a well, and not just as a boss.
As he decided to really expand on his knowledge base about the television industry, and becoming in my view one of the most remarkable television executives on a world-wide bases, I sort of piggy-backed on to that and he embraced me as part of his growth. He pushed me, and I think together, along with other people who were along for the ride throughout these years, we all made big things in international television.
I think the evolution had a lot to do with trial and error and learning from our mistakes – a combination of pushing our own envelope, as far as expanding our footprint. And not just making money, but creating strong brand and creating a connection with people and viewers.
How did the MundoFox project materialize?
About 7 to 8 years ago, when we learned that television frequencies would be eventually digitized across the US, and therefore, allow networks to suddenly have more bandwith available and that bandwidth had to be put to good use, people company-wide started coming up with ideas to exploit that extra bandwidth that came with the digitization.
I was sort of the architect. I have this creative streak and over the years, a more strategic view of things. I put the concept for the network together and created a programming grid of what things could look like, seizing available programming that we could borrow for News Corp’s different divisions, plus the things we had been producing internationally.
We presented it before top Fox executives, but it never made it much further than that.
A few years later, prior to the last census results in 2010, we started seeing hard data, and the buzz in trades that hinted that finally that the Hispanic market was ripe. So, we pulled the project back from the drawer and we said this time around, provided what the census promises to be true, we have shot at it.
Even if all the Census data proved true, and everything was aligned for News Corp to think seriously about the Hispanic market, we had to find our own partner… our very own Televisa. It didn’t take us long because little did we know that a longtime friend and partner of ours, RCN had been going through the same process individually.
It was June 2011 – a year ago, when we pulled the project out of the drawer, we sat down with Gabriel Reyes, the President of RCN and we said what’s next.
I remember Hernán had learned that Fernando Gaitán, creator of “Betty la Fea,” was up for the prestigious Brandon Tartikoff award in January. So we set that as our deadline, to make the announcement at NATPE. By the time we realized that, in November of 2011, we had a few but critical tasks to accomplish before we were able to stand in front of the community and say we’re launching the next big major national network in this country.
What was critical was to get a positive response from key local station owners. If we didn’t, MundoFox wouldn’t be able to launch. To our surprise, when we reached out to a few but critical local stations to pitch MundoFox, they said they were in the minute they heard our pitch. The Meruelo Group, the current owners of channel 22 in los angeles were the first ones to say they were in.
Once we got that clear indication that many station owners were craving not just for good content but essentially a value proposition that we had put togehter, we realized this is real.
What has been your biggest challenge since you took over the reins of MundoFox?
The biggest challenge is two-fold – first leaving this group of wonderful human beings that I had nurtured over the years across FIC. Second, was accepting in my heart that I was going to have to go through a learning curve and to humble myself in a way and to say I’m going to give it all I have. This would probably mean I will be devoted to this thing in my life as I am to my children.
Another challenge is accepting the fact this is a startup – creating Fox’s second major broadcast network in the U.S. That comes with a high responsibility. But above all, what’s most challenging is living up to all the people that have trusted me and those are my friends at RCN and all of Newscorp and most importantly, all of our affiliates who believe in what MundoFox stands for.
Everything else is a matter of putting out fires and getting things done.
You’re credited with increasing FIC’s Latin America channels to record ratings. How do you propose to accomplish the same feat with MundoFox?
That’s a big overstatement. We – and it’s a WE because there’s a bunch of very bright minds behind that quote – were able to increase ratings across every segment that we were part of internationally and that’s general entertainment, lifestyle, factual, sports and so on. There’s no magic potion for that. In my humble opinion, I always refer to my guiding pricinciple. Yes, I consider this to be a science – a combination of experience, of analyzing data, making strategic deicsions, definitely. But before that, my guidance principle is who, then what.
Way before your ultimate objectives in a given business, whether they’re high ratings from one year to the next, come people. So you want to make sure you have the right people sitting in the right places, and if at all possible, those people should be great people. That’s where you start. That’s where I’ve always started and that to me is the magic potion. Everything else is secondary.
In my view, that has to be with being start up and by definition having more flexibility and less to lose than the big guys. The advantage of being the small guy is that you can afford pushing the envelope and experiment and when you experiment, you’re able to innovate. Case in point, that’s exactly what Fox did 26 years ago, when ABC, CBS and NBC dominated the broadcast market in this country. Back then, Fox could afford to experiment and created very innovative shows and led to what Fox Broadcasting Company is today – the highest-rated network in the U.S. for the last 10 years. That’s our competitive advantage.
Do you see an advantage in being based in LA?
I see the advantage of being the first to really embrace the top Hispanic DMA in the country from its headquarters. Sooner or later, the community will appreciate the fact that at least one of the potentially major broadcasters in Spanish is being broadcast out of California. That sends a compelling message. It’s not just another Spanish broadcaster operating from the East Coast. From that perspective, it has value.
From an operational standpoint, to us it makes all the sense in the world. FBC [Fox Broadcasting Company] and all of Fox’s key television properties are operated and transmitted out of Los Angeles. That gives us operational advantages we can leverage.
Who is your target audience?
We’ve made an art of targeting the most desired demographic for advertisers. Not just targeting, but generating strong connections… and I borrow that from Mr. James Murdoch, who once put it like that and it has since stuck with me. That’s our core audience: Hispanics between 18-49 and that’s how we’re programming network. That could expand.
Not many people are clear how the dynamics within the diversity of the Hispanic group operate and work. Traditionally, Nielsen would define Hispanics as those who were Spanish-language predominant vs. those who were English-language predominant, and in between were the bilinguals. We think that’s a thing of the past. We have our version of that definition. We break that down into 3 groups, but with a different take on how we define them:
The first, we call Spanish-language reluctant – those who watch Spanish-language television reluctantly. Maybe they’ve been in this country not too long and they’re stuck watching whatever they’re offering in Spanish because they can’t yet watch a full show in English. That’s a small group, roughly 16% of Hispanics.
Then we have the English-language reluctants, who wish they could watch more Spanish-language television, even if they speak more English than Spanish on daily basis, but refuse to watch something in Spanish that’s not nearly as good as what they get in English. We think those are 25-26% of the group.
Then clearly, we have what we call the Spanish-language routines. That’s the largest group and potentially where we know the most upside can come from. They’re the ones that currently watch Univision and Telemundo and are happy with it. But we think, with this group – we were also very happy with the Walkman in the 90’s at some point, somebody came up to you and said, check out this iPod, which unlike your Walkman, you can store a thousand songs in it… and you fall in love with the iPod right there and then. Long story short, we think the low hanging fruit for us are the first 2 groups. Those are going to come with MundoFox, but we’re also very keen and keep a close eye to the largest group, which is the Spanish-language routines.
What’s your take on other Hispanic media that’s trying to capitalize on the English-speaking Latino?
I say… good luck. I think some of them are right on target and might be successful in it. It’s not our business, at least not for now. I think the moment you start targeting Latinos in English, you’re opening the door to competing with many more competitors than you ever had before, and with players who do things extremely well.
It’s not our game and won’t be our game until much further down the line.
What’s the programming arrangement with the affiliates?
The network is going to feed most of the day, across the week and weekend. We’re looking at 16.5 hours on weekdays and 18 hours on weekend. That excludes an hour and half of local news Monday-Friday, which we encourage local affiliates to do their local news.
After 1 am, they have an option. Although the network will supply them with programming should they need it, from 1 to 7 am is for them to do whatever they want with that time.
As a network that’s providing the content and building a brand, what’s the commitment to quality you’re demanding of your affiliates and how will you keep track that their local newscasts and programs keep in line with your guidelines?
We’ve heard people over the last few years increasingly saying that content is king. We think that if content is king, then the brand is a castle. We’re all about brand and a proof of that is what Fox stands for.
We’re extremely sensitive to how our brand will be handled. No matter how little time affiliates will have on a daily basis to use the Fox brand, we have set very tight parameters. But most importantly, we really made it a big point so they feel they can get our support in order to never mess with the Fox brand. We’re really on top of that.
At the end of the day, I truly believe brands are more important now more than ever before, given the zillion viewing and other platforms available to the final consumer. I think now more than ever strong brand is a shortcut to a consumers mind. So you want to make sure that your brand is as strong and present in your consumer’s mind as possible. So brand is a top priority for us.
Ahead of the launch, you’ve already secured top advertisers such as Toyota, L’Oreal and T-mobile. How are advertisers responding to the launch? Is the entry of MundoFox in the market going to depress ad pricing?
Our ad sales team has done an incredible job. You really have to be good to secure the quality and the size of advertising partners that our advertising team, led by Tom Maney, has secured, especially when MundoFox does not exist yet and has no proven track record. Essentially, it’s all on spec, and based on a promise.
In spite of that, a good reason for that success, which by the way is material, we’re appalled by the support and investment that came with some of the country’s largest advertisers from day one and we’re not too surprised because I think, when you have only a handful of dominant players, the fact that a potentially large player with a very distinct value proposition will come into any given market, that’s usually good news for advertisers. It means choice.
I think this market is in much need of choice. We bring a different environment. It’s not more of the same. You’ll be able to reach and establish a connection with the same and new viewers with a different mindset. That can only be good.
I wouldn’t be concerned about pricing, because we care about this industry as much as our competitors do. We would never do anything to lower the overall value of what has been built by them over the years. We’re absolutely careful about coming up with rates that are competitive and that would never diminish the value they’ve been able to create. But we are a choice and an option to advertisers and advertisers have come to appreciate that.
How long do you think it will take for MundoFox to gain significant audience share and become a top player in the Hispanic media market?
My guess is that we have a long way to go before we reach cruise altitude. That may take years, but the important thing is we’re going out there with the conviction that we have everything it takes and then some, to be a major player. There’s not a doubt in our mind. The time factor is hard to predict, but we should have some clear indications of our convictions after one year of the network.