Cynthia Hudson Fernandez is on a mission. As the recently appointed senior vice president and general manager of CNN en Español and Hispanic strategy for CNN/U.S., the Hispanic TV executive is determined to make the venerable news channel relevant again, and compete in the world of Twitter, Facebook, apps, mobile and any other "news on the go" out there. As CNN en Español readies for a reface starting Nov. 22, Hudson Fernandez spoke to Hispanic TV Update about the network's upcoming changes and what it feels like to go back to Atlanta.
MCN: You were born in Los Angeles but spent most of your professional career in Florida. What was it like to move to Atlanta?
Cynthia Hudson Fernandez: I actually lived here [Atlanta] when I was a little girl. My mother got her PhD at Emory University and my father got his PhD at Georgia State. I lived at one point at Emory student housing when I was a kid, and I had my first communion here, but in those days Atlanta was a very small city comparatively speaking to what it is today. It had the "blue laws," which means that everything was closed on Sundays including the movies and restaurants. The city has grown dramatically, it's a very dynamic and cosmopolitan city and I'm really enjoying it!
MCN: There has been a bit of a hype in the media about CNN en Español's complete reface. What is all this about? And why the need for a makeover?
CHF: More than a reface this is really an evolution. We continue to be the news network for Latin American and for the U.S. Hispanic but we are going to be adding more programming to the mix, when before we were only una rueda de noticias [the typical news reel]. We would be every half hour or every hour repeating the same stories on a daily basis. But now we are becoming more about programming; more analysis, more context. We do the "what" is happening very well. But we will be doing more of the "why" is happening?
MCN: Why do it now?
CHF: If you look at where news has evolved and how technology is being used now. In the old days people didn't have a cellphone or your computer on all day and your main source was TV news, well that made sense. But now people want more context in their lives. They are getting the news from all kinds of sources in today's world. As a result of this, all the other news networks evolved. But CNN en Español has operated under the same model since 1997. So we have evolved the way the rest of the news networks have evolved!
MCN: You talk about giving more context to the news. Give me an example of this.
CHF: We have a show, Panorama Mundial, which is a half-hour show on world news stories is going to be one hour now. So it will have the news but it will also have commentary, analysis, people who can comment on the effects of the story. Obviously right now we are on the middle of what they call breaking news, because we are following the rescue of the Chilean miners minute-by-minute. But then comes the daily news cycle, and we want to contextualize things. Why the job market isn't changing, for example. A little bit more detail on the "why" of a story.
MCN: All this must be very expensive; what's the investment put into all this?
CHF: We are investing in several areas. We are adding a studio in Miami, which will be operational as of Nov. 22. That it very important, because Miami is one of the main hubs for the Latin American region, both in the financial and trade worlds. We need to have a real presence in Miami. The other investment is in technology. We are adding more HD capable content. We are also hiring between 10 and 15 new people; adding more correspondents and more collaborators for our shows.
MCN: CNN en Español has managed to establish itself really well in Latin America. But what's the plan for growing within the U.S. Hispanic?
CHF: We are lucky that we have three feeds. We have a feed that is for Mexico only; then one for the U.S. Hispanic and one for the pan-regional Latin American market. We will be allowing for each one of those feeds to have their own personality, but also different content. So in the U.S. we'll be launching a show called Latino Life and that will only air in the U.S. We will also be tailoring some of the news stories; for instance if we cover immigration, well that's very important for the U.S. Hispanic market but if you live in Uruguay, you don't care very much. So we will be balancing information depending on each feed.
MCN: Obviously your content targets the Spanish-speaking Latinos. Would you say English-dominant Latinos are being well served by CNN or the mainstream media overall?
CHF: What I'm finding is that if you have compelling programming and you're lucky enough to be a bilingual Hispanic, no matter how acculturated you are, if you have compelling programming in your native language you are still going to watch it and you'll be interesting in it. So our job is to have compelling content that no one else provides. And I think Spanish is going to be around for a very long time in this country.
MCN: What's the ultimate goal of the makeover?
CHF: We are currently in 5 million U.S. households; most of those are in the Spanish tier. We would obviously love to double that, but that's going to be a process over time. Mostly, we believe CNN en Español should be a part of any MSO's offering, because -- through our different feeds -- we are going to be providing very localized content, becoming very relevant to their audiences. We will be a very good tool for driving new subscribers.