Univision Communications Inc. has installed veteran television executive Randy Falco as its new chief executive, with the task of capitalizing on the growth of the U.S. Latino population to steer the Spanish-language media company into the mainstream.
Falco's promotion, unanimously approved by Univision's board Wednesday, comes in the wake of a tumultuous period for the nation's dominant Spanish-language media company.
Univision for years was distracted by feuds with its primary programming partner, Mexico-based Grupo Televisa. It struggled to ride out the recession while managing a $10-billion mountain of debt that came with a 2007 leveraged buyout.
During the last year, Univision patched up its relationship and extended its partnership with Grupo Televisa and restructured its debt. Now the New York company is looking to capture a larger audience by expanding its digital offerings and perhaps even reaching out to English-speaking viewers.
"The board unanimously agreed that Randy's track record and expertise make him the ideal executive to lead Univision's future growth," Univision Chairman Haim Saban said in a statement.
Falco, 57, spent 30 years at NBC, rising to senior positions in the business operations of the network, followed by a two-year stint as chief executive of problem-plagued Internet firm AOL Inc.
He joined Univision in January as chief operating officer, then took on greater responsibilities when the previous chief executive, Joe Uva, was ousted in March.
"I'm happy to be here. I love this asset," Falco said Wednesday. He was given a five-year contract as chief executive.
The company's flagship broadcast network, Univision, is the fifth-most-popular television network in the U.S., on many nights scoring higher ratings than its English-language rivals.
The 2010 census showed that Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the population with more than 50 million living in the U.S., making up 16% of the population.
Last month, Univision unveiled plans to launch three new cable networks to fortify its dominance in the Spanish-language media.
"They are recognizing that the market is changing technologically, demographically and linguistically," said Hector Orci, co-founder and chairman of the Los Angeles advertising firm La Agencia de Orci & Asociados.
"The challenge for them is to be able to communicate with the Latino audience in the U.S. whatever language the audience feels comfortable in," he said.
That means introducing English into the mix to appeal to the more assimilated segments of the Latino population, Orci said.
"We are absolutely looking at that," Falco said. "But we are going to experiment with what our audience will allow. Over time we will assess what appetite our audience has for English on Univision."