Should Univision and Telemundo merge?

    As I listened to last Fall’s Big Three congressional hearings, which revived talk about a possible GM-Chrysler merger, call me crazy but I wondered whether we should also be talking about a merger between Univision and Telemundo.

There certainly would be some who would fret about a merger, on the grounds that it might imply that the Hispanic market is shrinking (when we know it’s actually booming), but I think the entire marketplace–viewers and advertisers–would actually benefit.  There would certainly be cases of redundancy, requiring some elimination of positions, but in the end I think we’d see a much more robust, more potent Hispanic media empire that would be better poised to confront a rapidly evolving market.  For I honestly believe that when we eventually come out of this economic nightmare, we will see that certain CHANGED consumer behaviors have become PERMANENT.  We ALL need to be prepared for that.

I also believe that there are certain folks who I think would actually WELCOME such a merger, namely Univision’s private equity owners AND Jeffrey Imelt of GE.  I’m certain Univision’s private equity owners had visions of retiring in St. Barths in 2009 (although I’m sure some of them already vacation there) but have recently been shell-shocked.  And then there’s NBC and GE.  I’m still wondering whether GE/NBC know what they bought, or whether they have ever really cared.  And therein lies the crux of my merger idea: given the current and incredible challenges facing Hispanic marketing, we need to dramatically expand the critical MASS of truly committed professionals working in Hispanic media.  For example, Telemundo’s English-language Latino channel, mun2, would in all likelihood get more support from a mega-sized Hispanic media company.

I also think that GE and Univision’s owners would welcome the reduction in expenses realized through consolidation and the potential for increased revenues realized from greater distribution and reach (see below).  I’m have no doubt that Univision’s owners grind their teeth with every billable hour spent on their bout with Televisa.  I don’t want to get into the specifics of FCC ownership rules that would need to be followed but I think a consolidation process would address these.

Programming – Keep the best of the best–let the best programming rise to the top.  Clearly, Univision’s award-winning network news programming would be given the spotlight.  The best of sports programming from both networks could be kept.  And perhaps a merged company could leverage the seemingly better relations Telemundo has with Televisa.

Distribution – The one change I’d recommend on this issue is to turn over the Telefutura stations over to mun2.  This would have the immediate and profound effect of propelling mun2 into the market position it deserves.  More importantly, mun2 would be then ideally poised to fully exploit the burgeoning bicultural/bilingual Latino youth segment, and give marketers who have been seeking such Hispanic consumers robust distribution and reach.  Of course, this might put more distance between mun2 and Viacom’s MTV3 but Viacom is experiencing its own turmoil (and super debt-load), and I don’t yet see any plans to give MTV3 the commitment that channel deserves.

Management – Just like programming, it would be a case of the best and the brightest allowed to rise to the top–some would stay and some would go.  I think we could see someone like Univision’s Dave Lawenda oversee a mega sales force or someone like mun2’s Flavio Morales at the reigns of pre-eminent bicultural/bilingual programming in the U.S.

Look, we could still have the likes of such niche Hispanic sports channels as ESPN Deportes and Fox Sports en Espanol, and powerful local channels like MEGA TV and the Liberman stations, but marketers would benefit from a one-stop, national Hispanic media company.   There are still some marketers who don’t get it in 2009–they will never get it–but a mega-sized Hispanic network would give breadth, reach, relevance and options to those more sophisticated marketers who DO get it.  They would have a vehicle for every Hispanic sub-segment they target.

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