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Univision Communications Chief Executive Joe Uva stepping down

Insiders say Univision is making moves to leverage its dominance in Spanish-language TV to become more of a mainstream media company.

March 15, 2011|Meg James, Los Angeles Times

Univision Communications Inc.'s chief executive, Joe Uva – who guided the Spanish-language media giant through several turbulent years – said he was stepping down.

The company said Monday in a statement that Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, chairman and a key investor in Univision, would assume "additional responsibilities" while a search is underway to find a new chief executive. Uva's last day with the New York-based media company will be April 2.

Univision declined to address the departure of Uva, 55, other than to say in a statement that Uva decided not to renew his employment agreement "in order to be able to seek other opportunities."

But his decision comes fewer than two months after Univision installed longtime NBC executive and former AOL chief Randy Falco as chief operating officer, a signal that the Univision board felt it needed to strengthen management as it tries to capitalize on the results of the 2010 census, which confirmed the growth of the U.S. Latino population.

Falco, who spent 31 years at NBC, is expected to be a candidate for chief executive. He declined to comment.

Univision's owners had recruited Uva, former head of media agency giant OMD, four years ago to bolster Univision's revenue by recruiting blue chip advertisers. Not long after Uva took the reins in 2007, however, the recession hit and the advertising market collapsed. Saban and four private equity companies took control of Univision in a leveraged buyout in 2007 that burdened the company with debt.

Univision also endured a costly and distracting courtroom battle with its Mexican programming partner, Grupo Televisa, which threatened to cut off its supply of popular soap operas, or telenovelas, that fuel Univision's prime-time ratings. Univision survived the challenge, but the company's weakened financials prevented its owners — Saban, Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Texas Pacific Group — from quickly selling Univision.

Now, according to insiders, Univision's owners want to leverage the company's dominance in Spanish-language television to become more of a mainstream media company. Developing a strategy to achieve that will be the priority of the new chief executive, the insiders said.

Over the past 18 months, Univision has significantly improved its financial position as the advertising market rebounded. Moreover, the company has made peace with Televisa, with the Mexico City-based entertainment giant investing $1 billion and becoming a part owner. That guaranteed that Univision would not lose an important supply of programming.

Saban declined a request for an interview. In a prepared statement, he said: "Univision is a better company today due to Joe's efforts in building a strong leadership team and positioning Univision for long-term success."

meg.james@latimes.com

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