When Lorena Castañeda became general manager of KTDO Channel 48, the Telemundo affiliate in El Paso, nine years ago, Spanish-speaking viewers had one option for news: Channel 26 KINT-TV, an affiliate of the media giant Univision.
Four years later, Castañeda went head-to-head with her rival, overseeing the launch of Telemundo’s first Spanish-language newscast in El Paso, Telenoticias El Paso.
Since then, Telemundo’s share of the El Paso market – and revenue – has steadily grown, although Univision’s newscasts remain on top for Spanish-language news.
Telemundo’s primetime lineup does better and ended last year as the most watched Spanish-language primetime in El Paso, among adults 18 to 49.
The station’s home on the Eastside at 10033 Carnegie is now bursting at the seams, Castañeda said, so they are looking for a new, larger headquarters in El Paso.
Castañeda would also like to launch weekend and morning newscasts. Right now, the station only has a 30-minute newscast at 5 p.m. and another at 10 p.m.
The Telemundo affiliate is owned by ZGS Communications, a Hispanic-owned media company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. It owns nine Spanish-language television stations in Fort Myers-Naples, Hartford, Orlando, Providence, Richmond, Springfield, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
Castañeda, who has eight siblings, was born and raised in El Paso. She grew up in the Lower Valley and graduated from Ysleta High School. Her father worked as a heavy machinery mechanic.
Castañeda started working in retail when she was 15. She became a manager when she was 18, and in her mid-20s, became a district manager for Twigland Fashions, a ladies apparel company that owns the A’GACI brand. For years, she traveled extensively, managing 20 stores in Texas, New Mexico and California.
In 2006, she got a phone call from executives at ZGS Communications. Did she want to be general manager of the company’s television station in El Paso?
“I love El Paso,” Castañeda said. “I think it is a great city, especially having worked in some of the more metropolitan cities. I just love that about El Paso; it’s still a big city yet it feels like a small town.”
Castañeda serves on the board of Wise Latina Internationals and is a member of El Paso Community College’s Hispanic Heritage Committee.
She sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about the growth of the Spanish-language media market, going head-to-head with Univision and the station’s greatest challenge.
Q: How has the Spanish-language media market changed since you became general manager in 2006?
Not a lot of people know that Telemundo is owned by NBC Universal, an American company. It’s all being produced by the same folks who produce NBC programming. I guess the best way to describe Telemundo, and it is a phrase we are starting to use, is that we are Hispanic America at its best.
When I first started, I know that a lot of the English-language stations would tell their clients: You don’t need to advertise in Spanish in El Paso because everybody here is bilingual and you shouldn’t throw your money away to advertise in Spanish. And yet almost all of the general-market stations now have a Spanish property.
Q: While there are a lot of El Pasoans who are bilingual, for many, Spanish is their first language – the language of comfort.
Back in the day it almost wasn’t cool to be Hispanic, if you will, especially with the generations that I know. Now that is not the case – it is our heritage, our culture, and people are embracing it and proud of it.
Q: Networks are even making English adaptations of Spanish telenovelas now – the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” for example. Who would have predicted that when you started nine years ago?
(Laughs) Exactly. Not at all. One of the things that Telemundo is doing is what we call the “super series.” They are not your grandma’s telenovelas anymore. They are action packed, and the programing is very nice.
Q: Unlike soap operas, telenovelas have traditionally ended, but it sounds like that is changing somewhat.
The “super series” are shorter, but we bring them back. This is now the third temporada, or season, of “El Señor De Los Cielos,” which is unheard of for telenovelas.
Q: Has there also been more crossover of people – anchors, reporters and actors – from Spanish-language media to English-language media?
There aren’t that many yet, but there have been a few. Carlos Ponce has done quite a few series in English and he also does novelas in Spanish. Kate del Castillo is another.
Telemundo has really brought on a lot of telenovela stars that have been on other networks. Now they are jumping over to Telemundo.
Q: By other networks you mean Univision.
Q: The 800-pound gorilla in the room. Telemundo has been able to give a serious ratings challenge to Univision nationwide. How?
It’s several things, the first one being very engaged with our community. Second, is that the programming is really good. And another thing that is very important is fostering the relationships with our clients and giving them great results.
Q: Telemundo has also hired some people from Univision in El Paso.
Karla Mariscal was with Univision for many years and then took a hiatus of about a year and came on board with us last year. And, just recently, we hired James Valdez as our local sales manager, who comes to us also from Univision.
Q: When did Telemundo launch an El Paso newscast?
For the first four years that I was here, we didn’t have a newscast. It was really tough for us to resonate with the community.
We are an affiliate. We are not owned and operated by Telemundo – we are owned by ZGS Communications – and one of the things I love about ZGS is that we are encouraged to be part of the community. They really advocate for us to give back to the community when we do business. That is what I love most about my job.
So for those four years it was really tough for me because, as a station, we really didn’t have all the bells and whistles everybody else had, namely the newscast.
Q: Which is important to any local TV station.
It is extremely important. So for those four years we just tried to engage with the community in every single way we could. That helped us increase our profile and grow our revenue to the point where we were able to launch our newscast.
We launched our first newscast in November 2010. That first year we had a 25-percent increase in our revenues, and we haven’t stopped since then. Our ratings have continued to grow every year.
Q: It must have been a challenge to launch a new newscast, competing with Univision, which had a long-established newscast.
The viewer really didn’t have another Spanish-language option. One of my arguments at the time was the fact that, in English, there were four or five options, and in Spanish, there was only one.
Hats off to our competition because for many, many books they were the No. 1 television newscast regardless of language. So obviously people wanted to get their information in Spanish.
When we came along, we were another option for people, and we have slowly been gaining ratings. But the Hispanic viewer is very loyal. That’s probably the one area where we have the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge.
Q: How do you convert people?
We try to find ways to see if people will try us, give us a chance, and hopefully the product will speak for itself.
Q: What is the profile of Telemundo’s typical viewer in El Paso?
It’s different depending on the programing. Our female demographic is strong. We also have been growing quite a bit in the 19-to-34 age group.
Q: What are your ratings?
In prime time, over the last four years, we have had tremendously strong numbers, and in some cases, we have been No. 1 regardless of language in prime time.
Q: What is competition like these days for the advertising pie in El Paso?
I go with our national sales team to some of the bigger cities to speak with different agencies, and I have seen is a shift.
Before, as we would go out, we would really have to explain why it was important for them to broaden their buy into more Spanish. The mentality used to be that the lion share would go to Univision and Telemundo would get, you know, whatever was left.
But now we have the numbers to support the fact that we have a higher percentage of the share of the market. We have anywhere from 30 to 40 percent.
Q: What are you referring to when you say share of the market?
The Spanish share of the audience based on ratings. So if you are spending say $10,000 in advertising and you are going to put 100 percent of that on one station, it doesn’t make sense because you are missing out on a piece of the market.
Q: That’s quite a change in market share.
With the launch of our newscast and everything it just started growing pretty steadily. It’s been very helpful to us from a revenue standpoint.
Q: How are revenues?
They are very good. We’ve had some really great growth over the last few years.
Q: How important is the El Paso market to the station’s owner, ZGS Communications?
El Paso is important in the sense that we are the station within our station group that has the highest Hispanic density.
There’s a lot of opportunity, because we have seen the growth of the station and still feel there is a lot more we can do. There is opportunity such as weekend news and morning news that we are still not doing but would like to.
One of the obstacles is our location, because we’ve been in this location since the station was purchased by ZGS. They purchased it from a company named Council Tree, and this year we are celebrating our 10-year anniversary since ZGS has come into the market.
Our next step now is to find a new home, and we are in the process of doing that.
Q: Are the owners supportive of the station here?
Yes, they are great. They have invested quite a bit in El Paso.
Q: Why do you need to move?
We need a bigger space to take on some of the initiatives I talked about like weekend news and so forth.
We’ve also talked about expanding our current newscast, because we have a half-hour newscast Monday through Friday and have the opportunity to do a one-hour newscast. For that, we need to hire more people and we need more space.
Q: How many employees does Telemundo have in El Paso?
We are close to 40 people now. When I started, we had maybe 10 people. We have about five reporters.
Q: What is the state of journalism in El Paso? The profession has taken a beating across the country.
There’s a lot of talent out there. Unfortunately what happens sometimes is there is just not enough work in the El Paso region for people coming out of these fields.
Q: Is it hard to keep talent?
Well, yes and no. There are a lot of people who come into El Paso and use it as a steppingstone to go into bigger markets, and there are those who are actually rooted in the community and want to stay here.
Q: In broadcast news, moving up often means moving on to a bigger market.
Exactly. But like I said, there are some people who are very much rooted in this community.
Q: What are some of the big issues in El Paso right now?
Immigration is always a big issue. Right now, there’s the hot button issue of law enforcement being able to ask you about your immigration status and so forth.
Elections just happened and that was an important part of our coverage.
Q: Voter turnout remains low in general, but especially among Hispanics.
Exactly. Last year, we did a big get out the vote campaign, and we have every intention of doing the same thing starting probably later on this year for the 2016 elections.
As a matter of fact, we have a partnership with LULAC and work closely with them to create registration points and raise awareness. In the past, we have gone door to door with our anchors and we even had a voting bus, if you will. So, yeah, that is a big concern.
Q: Where are you now in the process of finding a new location?
We are being very aggressive. We are looking, and we’ve identified a few places.