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NBCUniversal taps Emilio Romano as Telemundo president

Media veteran and ex-airline executive Emilio Romano has the difficult job of ensuring Telemundo achieves substantial growth so that it becomes a more viable competitor to Univision Communications.

September 22, 2011|By Meg James, Los Angeles Times
  • This is going to be a lot of work but a lot of fun, says Emilio Romano, after the media veteran and former top airline executive was named president of Telemundo.
This is going to be a lot of work but a lot of fun, says Emilio Romano, after… (Juan Manuel Garcia, Telemundo )

NBCUniversal's surprise pick to run its Spanish-language television operation Telemundo must pull off a particularly difficult task: clawing deep into a market dominated by entrenched powerhouse Univision Communications.

"This is going to be a lot of work but a lot of fun," Emilio Romano said in an interview Wednesday, after the media veteran and former top airline executive was named president of Telemundo.

Romano starts his new job in October. He replaces former President Don Browne, a longtime NBC executive who retired in June. Under Browne's tenure, Telemundo struggled to become a force in original programming but during the past season made dramatic gains in ratings.

Still, NBCUniversal's new bosses want to see additional growth. Comcast Corp., which acquired controlling interest in NBCUniversal in January, quickly identified the Spanish-language operation as a business that needs to achieve substantial growth to become a more viable competitor.

That added importance to the selection of a new Telemundo chief.

"Emilio was our No. 1 choice," said Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment and Digital Networks and Integrated Media. "It boils down to two things. Emilio has deep passion, knowledge and experience around multiple pieces of the media business — digital, broadcast and cable television — and he has the ability to lead a large-scale global organization."

Telemundo, based outside Miami, long has toiled in the shadows of Univision, which has dominated the Spanish-language market with its popular programming. Univision's partnership with Mexico City-based television giant Grupo Televisa enables Univision to draw from a treasure chest of low-cost Televisa-produced telenovelas, which fuel its prime-time ratings.

Univision is the fifth-largest television network in the U.S. and on some nights beats NBC in the ratings. It does particularly well among Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans — a group that makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population.

For Telemundo, attracting more Latinos of Mexican descent has become a priority.

"That's a very important market, but it's not the only one," Romano said. "We have to make sure that we engage the entire U.S. Hispanic population. It's all about content, and we are going to work together to create even more compelling content."

The 46-year-old Mexico City native will be in charge of the Telemundo broadcast network, including its entertainment, news and sports divisions as well as its production studio and its 14 owned TV stations. He also will oversee mun2, the cable channel that targets young bicultural Latinos. Telemundo generates revenue of more than $600 million a year.

NBCUniversal reached well outside its ranks in selecting Romano. A former attorney, he was an executive at Televisa during the 1990s, and a member of Univision's board. From 2004 to 2007, he served as chief executive of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion and engineered the airline's largest financial restructuring in its 87-year history.

Early in his career, Romano worked in various positions within the Mexican Ministry of Finance. Most recently, he ran a real estate business in Miami, where he and his wife and children reside, and Mexico.

meg.james@latimes.com

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