April 2015
Volume 35 No. 3

February 2015
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Marcel Vinay Sr.: A Pioneer Who’s Covered All Aspects of LATAM TV and Its History

At the 2012 L.A. Screenings a special celebration was held on behalf of Marcel Vinay Sr. His current company, Mexico’s Azteca, celebrated Vinay’s 45 years in the TV industry. It was also Vinay’s 34th L.A. Screenings. The 1978 Screenings was his very first TV market, which he attended both as a seller and a buyer for Televisa.

At the 2012 celebrations, all Latin American and Hispanic TV industry representatives honored him with a champagne dinner at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. In attendance were top-level execs from all parts of the Americas, including Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, and even former colleagues and current competitors from Televisa.

Vinay began his career in the television business as a broadcaster in 1966. Before that, from 1963, he managed an electronic cable company.

The 73-year-old Mexico City native didn’t enter the international distribution business until 1974, as president of Protele, a Televisa subsidiary in charge of selling programs produced by Televisa, mainly telenovelas. In effect, according to VideoAge’s guidelines, the calendar year makes Vinay — often referred to as Sr., so as not to be confused with his son, who’s in charge of Azteca’s Comarex — more of a veteran than a distribution pioneer (someone who started in the 1960s).

However, there are elements of his career that warrant the honorary pioneer title. After launching for Telecadena 15 full power TV stations in major Mexican cities, in 1971 he formed a TV network with Channel 8 in Mexico City as an affiliate. The following year his network merged with the competing Telesistema Mexicano to form Televisa, the country’s largest TV network.
Meanwhile, in 1969 while at Telecadena, Vinay distributed the first Plaza Sesamo in Latin America, sponsored by IBM. That event qualifies him for VideoAge’s pioneer status. Plus, at Protele, he distributed in LATAM some of the first telenovelas ever sold, with titles such as Muchacha Italiana Viene a Casarse (now a remake at Televisa), Ana Del Aire and Mundo de Juguete.

“In 1974,” recalled Vinay, “our challenges were first to convince programmers and station owners in Latin America to try Mexican telenovelas with actors unknown to them. Second, to have them use the expensive and cumbersome two-inch videotape machines, instead of the 16-millimeter film projects required by U.S. imports. In those years, Latin stations produced few live shows with the rest of the schedule filled with U.S.-made programs.”

In 1987 Vinay moved the office of Protele from Mexico City to Los Angeles and hired Belinda Menendez (now president of NBCUniversal International TV Distribution). Vinay stayed with Protele until 1994 when he moved to TV Azteca (as it was then called) as VP of International Affairs in charge of acquisition.

Today, Vinay also operates Azteca’s three pay-TV channels. Over the course of his career he has been involved in film acquisition (for Televisa), sports (as manager of football and baseball teams), dubbing studios, a publishing audio company, a record company, a home video unit and film distribution in the U.S. (all for Televisa).

For Azteca, Vinay launched a TV commercial sales division and runs production of telenovelas and its music division.

At NAB 2012 in Las Vegas, Vinay explained in his characteristically humorous way some of the challenges he faced during his distribution career:

“At the beginning of the 1950s, countries such as Mexico, Cuba and Argentina broadcasted telenovelas live, but since recording technology wasn’t available, these telenovelas were lost forever.

“It was only in the early 1960s that we could export telenovelas. In 1962, the Mexican government demanded that, if Telesistema wanted to import TV programs from the U.S., Telesistema had to export Mexican telenovelas to the U.S. Now, in order for Mexican telenovelas to air on American television (and in other LATAM countries), the live broadcast of each episode had to be filmed with a 16mm camera off a black and white TV monitor. Those copies, known as kinescopes, offered very low audio and video quality and audiences frequently had to imagine what was happening on the screen. Nevertheless, they became very popular in LATAM.

“Our problem was the U.S., since the Anglo TV stations were not interested in broadcasting Mexican telenovelas in Spanish, and they were less thrilled with the quality of the kinescopes. A breakthrough for our international program sales came only in 1965 with the two-inch videotape.
“Meanwhile, in order to comply with the Mexican government mandate, Telesistema first acquired TV stations in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas, to turn them into Spanish-language stations, which became the foundation for the American nationwide Spanish-language network, Univision.

“On the other hand, our telenovelas were having a big impact in LATAM. I remember when the military dictatorship governing Peru in the ’70s considered telenovelas harmful to TV viewers and forbade TV stations from broadcasting them. As a result, the women of Peru — no longer able to gossip about their favorite telenovelas — started to talk about the high cost of living. This generated such anger that they took to the streets with their pots and pans to demonstrate against the scarcity of food and its very high cost. Under a great deal of pressure, the military government asked us at Televisa for help and the telenovelas went back on the air. As a result, the demonstrations came to an abrupt halt.

“In 1976, Ampex and Sony launched the one-inch video tape that included several audio channels. This opened up the opportunity for our telenovelas to be dubbed into local languages and sold in countries outside the Americas. By the mid-’80s Germany, France, Turkey, Greece, Italy and others were broadcasting Mexican telenovelas.”

Vinay recalled, “There are many stories related to telenovelas in those countries, most of which at that time only had state-run TV stations. For example, when the main state TV station in Russia bought its first telenovela, we at Protele were eager for the venture to succeed, instead of placing Russian voices over the Spanish voices (as was customary at the time), we dubbed it into Russian. The telenovela was blamed for causing Moscow’s water pipes to burst. The show aired for 45 minutes every weekday without commercial breaks. During that time the vast number of viewers who were glued to their TV sets did not go to the bathroom, causing an increase in the water pressure in the pipes, which eventually burst.

“In Spain, in the mid-’80s, television licenses were awarded to the private sector, and pressure was put on the state channels to broadcast telenovelas rather than allow the private stations to air them. The state channels did not believe in the genre, so we had to give them the first 70 episodes for free, hoping it would be a success. When their first telenovela was aired at 10 a.m., it was such a hit that business owners had to place TV sets in their stores, as neither employees nor customers arrived until the show ended after 11 a.m.

“And recently,” concluded Vinay, “according to an article published in Newsweek during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, American soldiers were amazed how the telenovela Mirada De Mujer — produced by Azteca — kept women glued to their TV sets, regardless of the Taliban’s strict and submissive laws.”

by Dom Serafini