Tears, fears, frustrations, intrigue and painful farewells – they are the ingredients of any good telenovela. But on March 9, these emotions broke free from the land of fiction and inundated the lives of the employees of the main Spanish language television networks in the United States.
Few employees are not in fear of losing their jobs. Uncertainty reigns as the industry falters with young bilingual Hispanics choosing English television on demand.
The crisis even has top management baffled. In fact, Randy Falco, the CEO of Spanish-language television giant Univision Communications, announced his retirement this week. This happened unexpectedly just four months after the company renewed his contract.
Those in lower positions also are suffering. At Telemundo Studios in Miami, the work day “seemed like a wake,” according to one of the many employees dismissed from the technical production area.
The network prepares for a move next month to an ultramodern new global headquarters near the intersection of the Florida Turnpike and Northwest 25th Street, on land acquired with tax benefits from the state of Florida and Miami-Dade County. Telemundo promised in return to “retain 800 jobs and create 150 jobs with an average salary of $89,000,” according to the South Florida Business Journal.
Ernesto Álvarez, an audio supervisor who was fired on March 8, wonders, through tears, how that promise got lost.
“We had meetings with bosses who told us that everything would be fine in the new headquarters,” Alvarez said in a statement to El Nuevo Herald. “But at 6 p.m. they started calling people in to Human Resources one by one, and although we gave our lives for this company, they fired us. They will give us only 4 weeks of salary.”
Alfredo Richard, Vice President of Corporate Communications at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, has a different story. Payroll reductions serve “to ensure the long-term success of our business,” he explained.
“Telemundo has successfully redefined what it means to be a Hispanic media company and become a destination for innovation,” Richard said.
“We are committed to investing in this strategy because, through innovation and agility, we will remain competitive and maintain our leadership. By reviewing our next production plan and creative needs, and considering the time needed to prepare our new studios at Telemundo Center, we are adjusting our production lines,” he said, highlighting the high ratings that have driven the network to the top of the industry among the coveted segments of adults ages 18-49.
Verónica Villafañe, editor of Media Moves, a popular blog that covers Hispanics in the communications industry, told El Nuevo Herald that the motivation of each of the restructurings, both on Telemundo and Univision, should be questioned.
“At Univision there will obviously be a change of command, and I get the feeling that there will be more influence from Televisa,” the expert explained, noting that several managers of the North American network have been assigned to leadership positions in the Mexican media conglomerate.
On the Telemundo network, a separate entity of Telemundo Studios, personnel adjustments were also made at the beginning of February. One of those affected by the dismissals was Angie Sandoval, veteran newswoman and correspondent for Noticiero Telemundo.
“Telemundo made a gigantic investment in the new facilities, and we would have to see if they went over budget on one of their projects,” said Villafañe, surprised by the lay offs at Telemundo studios as the television station “boasted of its original productions for Hispanics in the United States.”
Meanwhile, at Univision the work environment is bleak. Layoffs are also anticipated at any time.
On Tuesday, Univision announced that it had failed in its bid to launch an Initial Public Offering of shares (IPO), leaving investors without an exit plan. The company suspended its IPO due to “the prevailing conditions in the market,” according to a document sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
A source familiar with Univision’s restructuring told the Los Angeles Times that the company’s financial advisers are seeking a $200 million cost reduction, a huge sum that could result in mass layoffs.
Falco’s resignation came a day after the departure of Univision financial director Francisco López-Balboa, hired in part to boost the IPO process. The executive went “in search of other opportunities,” the company said.
The Times points to a big problem in the industry: demographic changes and Trump’s position on immigration.
“Immigration has fueled the audience of Univision’s radio stations and television networks,” the newspaper reports. “But the growth of the Latino population comes more and more from people born in the U.S. who speak English and watch the main television networks, not just the Spanish-speaking ones.”