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Browne: ‘Promise Delivered’

4/18/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

When Telemundo president Don Browne
addresses a crowd of 1,000 at the Museum of Natural
History in New York on May 17, he won’t just be touting
the network’s recent record-breaking ratings. He’ll be
saying goodbye to an industry
where he has spent 44 of
his 67 years.

Browne, a journal ist
who made his way up from
reporter in NBC News’
Miami bureau in 1979 to
president of the NBC Universal-
owned Telemundo
in 2005, will retire on June
3, exactly eight years to the
day he joined the Spanishlanguage
broadcaster.

He hasn’t made up his
mind as to his next professional
move, but he has
one clear idea: He wants to
spend more time with his
wife, Cuban-born Maria,
and take a long-overdue trip
to the Greek islands for their
30th anniversary. An anniversary
trip is something
they haven’t been able to
take for a long, long time.

“Our wedding anniversary
is on May 9 and for years,
we haven’t really done anything
because it falls during
May sweeps,” Browne, who
will turn 68 in May, said in a
recent interview.

Browne’s retirement
comes a week after NBC
Universal announced the
creation of “Hispanics at
NBCU,” a company-wide
initiative to boost advertising
dollars targeting Hispanics.
It also comes as NBCU’s new majority owner,
Comcast, is taking a tighter grip on the Spanish-language
broadcaster: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and
new NBCU CEO Steve Burke, also Comcast’s executive
vice president, have urged Telemundo to produce stronger
ratings and more revenue.

WASN’T FORCED OUT

But Browne dismisses any rumor or analysis suggesting
his departure was forced.

Leaving Telemundo “was 100% my decision,” he said.
“I reached out directly to Steve Burke. I am picking the
time, I am picking the date and I’m picking the circumstances.”

And Browne added that he couldn’t have picked a better
time to leave: “Telemundo is in the best place it has
ever been. There will never be a better time for me to retire.
The company is in great shape. I am in great shape.”

Although Telemundo has always trailed rival Univision
Communications in both ratings and advertising
dollars, the network has made some significant progress
of late. Its current telenovela, La Reina del Sur, not
only beats Univision in key demos — it outrates the programming
on general-market sibling NBC.

During the week of April 4, La Reina beat not just Univision
and Telefutura, but ABC and NBC among adults
18-34. It averaged more total viewers (persons 2-plus)
and adults 18-49 than in any week in the network’s history,
during primetime Monday through Friday and
Monday through Sunday.

Now that he’s done everything he set out to do when
he took Telemundo’s reins six years ago, Browne said,
he can retire in peace.

“Six years ago, we
did not have studios;
we did not have original
content; we did not
have an international
business; we did not
have a digital business;
and mun2 was barely
a reality,” he said. “Today,
we have become
the second largest distributor
of Spanishlanguage
content in
the world. Our content
is running on Televisa
in Mexico. We produce
1,000 hours of scripted
programming; 3,000
hours of original content.”

Asked about who
should succeed him at
the helm of Telemundo,
Browne joked, “My
wife, Maria, of course!”
When pressed, though,
he said NBC Universal
management would be
well advised to consider
Telemundo chief
operating officer Jacqueline
Hernández,
whom Browne hired
away from Time Inc.-
owned People en Español
in the spring of
2008.

“I think Jackie has a
lot of the ingredients needed in the job,” he said. “She
would have to be considered very seriously.”

It’s not clear if NBCU management will promote from
within or look outside for Telemundo’s next leader. But
NBCU Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated
Media chairman Lauren Zalaznick, who oversees
Telemundo, has become deeply involved in the channel
and the “Hispanics at NBCU” initiative.

In a statement, NBCU said a new Telemundo president
would be named “in the coming months.”

Browne, a paddleboarding enthusiast, says he’ll use
his upcoming summer Greek getaway to spend quality
time with his wife and recharge his batteries to go
back to what he loves most: mentoring and coaching,
and continuing to advocate for diversity in the media
and in the workplace.

Browne recalled his first upfront presentation as Telemundo
president six years ago as if it were yesterday.
“Our ratings were in a free fall; everybody expected me
to do a deal with TV Azteca and call it a day and forget
original content,” he said.

“ ‘Quite the contrary,’ I said. I am placing an entire bet
on original content, because I believe in it,’ ” Browne recalled.
“On that day I made a promise: We are going to become
a great content company. So, on May 17, I’m going to
walk on that stage and say, ‘Promise delivered.’ ”

September