Uva Leads Univision Into Upfront

At least outwardly, Joe Uva comes off as one of the more affable and approachable executives on Madison Avenue. And he certainly did nothing to diminish his friendly-neighbor persona Wednesday as he led Univision's upfront presentation for the first time, barely a month and a half after taking over as company CEO.

Taking the stage, the non-Spanish speaker even offered up a "Gracias" and a "Mi casa es su casa"--though surprisingly not to the assembled advertisers, but Univision fans sitting nearby. For the advertisers, there was a promise to work together so the network can "unlock its power for all of you."

Later, the executive told a multilingual group of reporters that unlike the contentiousness of past years, Univision executives are now more than willing to work with them. He also said his plans call for the company to "do well by doing good" via public service and other efforts.

Above all, Uva was chosen for the job by a group of investors who ponied up billions to buy Univision to bolster its ad revenues, to use his vast experience buying (for OMD) and selling (for Turner) to perhaps some day soon bring in ad dollars in the same ballpark as the English-language nets.



"We sure hope so," he said Wednesday, when asked if the network could make strides in that direction this spring. He added that it's going to take "educating all of the agencies not only about the size of the audience but the power of the audience." Univision argues it should be considered the fifth broadcast network, with ratings that trump the CW in both the 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 demos. It also points out that the Hispanic population has growing buying power and feels an "intensely passionate connection" to the network's programming, and even its commercials.

The smart money clearly is on the 51-year-old Uva, who spent five years as CEO at OMD and six as president of sales for the Turner entertainment networks before that, leading the network to more ad dollars. "He's got a tremendous knowledge of the advertising industry," said Univision President-COO Ray Rodriguez.

But a more intriguing question is how the veteran of decades of upfronts will fare on some of the other issues he's likely to face as the CEO of Univision Communications--a company he'll lead from New York (executive offices are moving from Los Angeles), although he will spend considerable time at its Miami production offices. Success there has the potential to vault the now closely-watched Uva from ad sales guru to media kingpin.

Uva's OMD operation likely bought local spots on Comcast or Time Warner Cable, but that's a lower-stakes game than wading into the thorny and often nasty issue of retransmission consent. While traditionally, Univision--which owns three networks and a mass of local stations--has taken the approach that it would allow cable operators to carry its 62 stations for free in exchange for offering its flagship along with the Telefutura and Galavision networks, Uva now is done with the quid pro quo. He wants cash--and tons of it--as he seeks to launch a new revenue stream.

He said yesterday that he wants cable and satellite operators to pay $1 per subscriber to offer Univision. That's the kind of pretty penny leading cable networks get, but Uva would appear to have plenty of leverage. Univision is arguably a network that cable operators must carry, particularly in regions with large Hispanic populations.

"The negotiations are going to be predictably hard," he said yesterday, looking unfazed.

The $1 goal no doubt is a posturing move, and there are many ways the negotiations could go over the next year and a half to ease some of the potential acrimony. For example, Univision could cut its price in exchange for operators offering its programming on VOD channels and Uva said that option could play a role in the back-and-forth.

Besides facing off with hard-hitting cable operators, Uva will lead some restructuring that includes selling the Univision Music Group, which includes four successful record labels and two music publishing companies. There are also plans to sell off an undisclosed number of "non-core radio assets" from among its 69 stations. And there's litigation to grapple with involving Televisa, which has a deal to supply Univision with programming through 2017. But the two are involved in a suit about offering Televisa-produced shows over the Internet.

Certainly, media types who have sat across the table from him may disagree, but Uva has always had a sort of understated charm in public--a BMOC who doesn't feel the need to flaunt it. And that's likely to serve him well as he tries to ensure that he keeps a run of investors with $13.7 billion at stake happy.

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