Dialogue: Uva sees Univision's future
EmptyNEW YORK -- Joe Uva took the CEO post at Univision Communications on April 1 after an investor group including Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Saban Capital Group took the Spanish-language media powerhouse private. The former advertising executive recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's business editor Georg Szalai about his first few months on the job and his longer-term vision for Univision.
The Hollywood Reporter: What has surprised you in the early going?
Joe Uva: It's all been on the opportunity side. I see a company that has had a great deal of success, a company that has a strong foundation that has established itself as the market leader on every platform on which it competes. I also know after being here for a few months that there is a tremendous amount of upside potential by tying the various operating divisions of the company more closely together, so that we can better serve not only our viewers, listeners and online users but our marketing partners, advertisers and distributors as well.
THR: In the media space, synergy attempts haven't always succeeded. Why will it work at Univision?
Uva: I'm not talking about what companies have tried in the past, about forcing things to happen that may not have been in the best interest of advertisers. ... This is about being much more customer-focused and community-focused in a way that allows us to more creatively bring the right parts of the company together at the right time for a particular advertiser's need and also working to help continue to enhance the viewing, listening and online experience that audiences have with Univision.
THR: What early steps have you taken?
Uva: We instituted a leadership council across the organization that hadn't existed before, which meets on a monthly basis and consists of 20 senior executives from around the organization. We talk about what are the opportunities and challenges the company faces across all the operating units, so that we can share experiences, get the best thinking and have people work together to focus on the opportunity. We also have created more of a two-way ongoing dialogue between corporate staff functions and the operating divisions. We announced that we were going to work more closely between our online division and the networks, which we are doing. Certainly, the digital area is a big opportunity.
THR: Tell us more about your digital vision.
Uva: We are the biggest Spanish-language Web destination in the U.S. On July 10, we had a soft launch of our social networking platform, Mi Pagina. In September, we will introduce our video-sharing functionality. And we also introduced a mininovela made for broadband that we did in partnership with Unilever (HR 7/10), and we're going to continue to invest in original content for the Web. In fact, we believe that based on the success of the original content we do on the Web that we will perhaps be able to take that content to television, as opposed to doing what today is in vogue -- taking just television content to broadband.
THR: How do you see Univision compared to NBC Universal's Telemundo these days?
Uva: Telemundo is one network. It's the only Spanish-language business that NBC is really in. We are a company with three television networks -- two broadcast and one cable -- a major online presence and a robust radio division. Telemundo has its partnership with Yahoo online, but even with Yahoo it doesn't do anywhere near the traffic we do. ... You can't really compare Telemundo to Univision Communications. And today, the comparison shouldn't be between Telemundo and Univision, the network, because (its second network) Telefutura is rapidly closing in on Telemundo and has beat it in certain demographics in certain weeks and nights. ... When you look at it alongside the English-language broadcast networks, Univision outperforms them in certain demos, all or some of them on a weekly basis. It's really Univision compared to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW. And really Telefutura compared to Telemundo.
THR: How did the upfront go and do you see Univision outperforming all the other networks?
Uva: We were fortunate during the upfront presentations to have the opportunity to tell advertisers what we're going to be focusing on and why our numbers are so big and why we continue to grow. It's really because of this relationship that we've cultivated and nurtured with our audiences -- that special bond of trust and empowerment. As far as advertising strategies and plans -- those decisions on how much money was going to go into Spanish- and English-language (programming) were determined months ago. So, it's not like it was going to be all of a sudden, voila, we are going to have this monumental shift of dollars. We look at this as the first step in accelerating that shift. The upfront is still going on. We expect that volume and price will be up in Spanish-language and certainly at our networks.
THR: Any specific forecasts?
Uva: No comment. But as the population continues to grow and Hispanics represent the biggest growth engine of the population, Spanish-language media will continue to thrive. There is a lot of our content that is of interest and resonates with people, whether or not they are bilingual. We do an awful lot in the area of public and community service.
THR: Tell us more about that.
Uva: (It goes) from what we do to message across our various platforms to what we actually do on the ground, helping grass-roots organizations. That's something this company has done for a long time. But because it wasn't a company that was openly communicating publicly, the world didn't know. We help our community really understand and be empowered, whether that's educating them on education, health, financial literacy, how to become a citizen, immigration reform (or) the importance of exercising the right to vote. And starting this fall, we'll do a comprehensive public service campaign educating Hispanics in this country about the transition to digital, which takes place in February 2009.
THR: A tricky question: How is your relationship going with Mexican broadcaster and (Univision's biggest program supplier) Grupo Televisa?
Uva: There are a number of touchpoints every day between Televisa and Univision. They have been and continue to be a very important programming partner for us. Operationally, it's been a good working relationship.
THR: Have you tried to reach out to them since they sold their stake in Univision in the company's buyout and there has been all this legal wrangling between you?
Uva: I have had a dialogue with (chairman, president and CEO) Mr. (Emilio) Azcarraga and several executives at Televisa. ... I won't comment on anything else.
THR: You mentioned all the assets you have. Does Univision need anything else?
Uva: Well, we're in the process of selling our music business. We don't see that as a core strategic asset. And we're going to concentrate on the businesses we do well with and continue to invest in those. I don't see any short-term major acquisitions on the horizon or a major divestiture.
THR: Univision is a growth business, but you are owned by private-equity groups, which often cut costs. Do you see any cost-cutting opportunities?
Uva: This is a company that is and will continue to be focused on growth. This company was so effectively and efficiently managed from a cost standpoint by the previous ownership that it doesn't have cost-cutting opportunities. The owners saw that when they bought the company that the real opportunity is growth.
THR: Is it an advantage to be a private company since a lot of other media and entertainment firms have gone private?
Uva: These are the best and brightest of the private-equity firms, and they saw something in here. I think the advantage is that you have a group of owners whose interests are absolutely aligned with each other and with management, are very supportive and have a tremendous amount of resident expertise. There is absolutely (and) unequivocally a focus by all the parties concerned about what we are going to do.
THR: Who are the major executives who you lean on very heavily?
Uva: Ray Rodriguez, the president and COO, has done a terrific job. Andy Hobson is our CFO. Doug Kranwinkle, who is our general counsel; Gary Stone, who is the president of our radio division; Javier Saralegui, who is the president of Univision Online; and certainly all of our people in programming in Miami are key to the organization.
THR: Does (former controlling shareholder, chairman and CEO) Jerry Perenchio have any role?
Uva: Jerry sold, collected his money and is having fun.
THR: You as the CEO are based here, but the company has been traditionally based in Los Angeles.
Uva: It's based here (New York) now. The board ratified that the official headquarters is in New York. I split my time between New York and Miami primarily and visit the other operations as necessary.
THR: If you look ahead three, five years into the future, what would you like people to say about Univision?
Uva: That it's the best-run, fastest growing multiplatform media company in America.
THR: You have said you're been working on your Spanish. What is it like coming into a market and learning its culture?
Uva: I have followed Univision for a number of years. Also, in my last job (as president and CEO of media buying and strategy agency OMD Worldwide), I spent quite a bit of time in Latin America. So I'm familiar with what's important culturally to the Hispanic community -- family values, spiritual belief systems. ... They celebrate life, have passion about everything they do.
THR: How is your Spanish now?
Uva: It's gotten better.