Univision Communications Inc. on Wednesday named a new general manager to its flagship television stations in Los Angeles and charged her with boosting revenue and restoring order to KMEX-TV Channel 34, which has been engulfed in management turmoil for nearly six months.
Maelia Macin, the former head of the network's stations in Austin, Texas, worked at KMEX in the 1990s as a local sales manager. She replaces Jorge Delgado, who was fired from Univision this year. Delgado's dismissal came on the heels of the ouster of Jorge Mettey, KMEX's influential news director.
The two executives were terminated promptly after Univision was taken private in March by a group of investors that include Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban. An internal investigation found that Mettey breached ethics policies in directing news coverage of Puebla, Mexico, according to several sources familiar with the probe.
Mettey, who for five years led one of the highest-rated TV news operations in Los Angeles, has hired a lawyer to explore a possible wrongful termination suit, according to people with knowledge of the matter who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. It is unclear why Delgado was fired, but his alleged lack of oversight of his former friend and subordinate, Mettey, was a contributing factor, said people close to KMEX.
Mettey and his lawyer did not return repeated phone calls. Delgado declined to comment. Univision said it would not comment on personnel matters.
The alleged improprieties investigated included whether Mettey had benefited financially from coverage of Puebla's governor at a time when he was being criticized for his association with an accused pedophile and of an African-themed zoo in Puebla in which Mettey's wife, Denise, has an ownership interest. In addition, the news division allegedly accepted free tickets on an Aeromexico flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Puebla. It is unclear what the investigation's findings were.
Last year, Mettey was honored by the state of Puebla as a Poblano distinguido, a distinguished citizen.
Mettey, who is from Mexico, enjoyed tremendous power as the news director for Univision's No. 1 station. He often acted as a liaison between the Latino community in Los Angeles and representatives of their home countries. The station puts heavy emphasis on such activist programs as "34 a Su Lado," (34 on Your Side), which urges Latinos to become U.S. citizens, register to vote and learn their legal rights.
KMEX, with its lineup of telenovelas, frequently draws more viewers to its prime-time broadcasts than any of the English-language stations in Los Angeles. During the May sweeps, KMEX aired the highest-rated newscasts in Los Angeles at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Macin, 43, is assuming one of the most important positions at Univision. Los Angeles is a crucial market that reaches 20% of U.S. Spanish-language television viewers. The two Los Angeles TV stations, KMEX and KFTR-TV Channel 46, are a cornerstone of the new Univision owners' strategy to dramatically increase the company's advertising revenue.
"Her biggest challenge will be to maintain the leadership position for KMEX during a time when Univision as a whole is under the spotlight," said Manny Gonzalez, managing director of marketing firm Abece. "The pressure is on her and her sales staff to deliver."
Madison Avenue has begun to better appreciate the buying power of the Latino audience in the last few years. The new owners are counting on increased advertising revenue to pay down the heavy debt they took on to acquire the company. The transaction, which totaled $13.7 billion, including debt, was one of the most highly leveraged media deals of the year, with the group financing as much as $10 billion, according to regulatory filings.
The ownership group is made up of Saban, through his investment vehicle, Saban Capital Group, and four private equity firms: Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Madison Dearborn Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
The group faces many challenges. Although Univision is a Spanish-language juggernaut with two powerful broadcast networks, a popular cable TV channel, a chain of radio stations and a music division with several Latin record labels, it hasn't been able to translate its market dominance into dollars.
"As exciting as the Hispanic market is, it hasn't reached its full potential in terms of advertising investment by major corporations," said Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, chief executive of Enlace Communications Inc., an L.A.-based marketing firm.
The network might need to reevaluate its Spanish-only policy, Newman-Carrasco added. A large percentage of young Latinos are bilingual and bicultural, and they are among the viewers that advertisers covet most.