Univision prexy to keep order inhouse

Cesar Conde considers future in down economy

Cesar Conde has his work cut out for him. The 35-year-old Harvard and Wharton School grad who just became president of Univision Networks is facing the challenge of ramping up inhouse production at a growing conglom amid a climate of economic uncertainty.

“Univision has grown into a multimedia company that includes three TV networks, a radio network and interactive media platforms,” Conde says, in one of his first interviews since Univision announced his promotion last month. “I hope to take it to the next level.”

That next level is likely to include boosting inhouse production in a bid to wean Univision away from its dependence on Mexican content provider Televisa for its primetime programming. Their long-term programming deal expires in 2017. It is likely to be renewed, but Univision would prefer to be less dependent on Televisa. Univision has been producing a glut of nonfiction programming including news, talk, variety, sports, specials and reality. It has also co-produced a number of telenovelas with Colombia’s RCN for Univision’s sister network TeleFutura, which reaches 85% of the 12.6 million Hispanic households in the U.S.

Where the company wants to grow its footprint is in the production of original fiction, according to Univision Communications CEO Joe Uva. “We will be looking at ramping up our capabilities to produce dramatic programming independently,” Uva says.

It won’t be easy.

Results from some dramatic skeins Univision has co-produced — such as its “Desperate Housewives” remake and Jennifer Lopez-produced skein “Como ama una mujer” — have been mixed at best, while some like “Te amare en silencio”in 2003 were flops.

A slump in the ad market has seen Univision’s revenues slide but its TV auds are robust, thanks in great part to Televisa programs. The nation’s most-watched Hispanic network has overtaken English-language laggard CW to rank as the No. 5 broadcaster overall. Few doubt that Univision has gotten the right man to help grow the network.

Smart and gregarious, Conde, the network’s exec VP and chief strategic officer until he assumes his Miami-based post on Oct. 1, has a good relationship with Televisa.

“We believe that the appointment of Cesar Conde is excellent news for Univision,” says Televisa spokesman Manuel Compean. “We are sure that Cesar has the personal as well as professional attributes to make great strides in this company, especially during these complicated times.”

Conde steps up, as Univision Communications prexy and chief operating officer Ray Rodriguez, 58, who’s been with the company for some 20 years, is set to retire by year’s end. Uva will assume the extra title of president of Univision Communications while the COO post will remain unfilled.

Rodriguez’s tenure has been marked by some rocky patches. In 2005, Televisa chairman and CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean quit the Univision board to protest then-owner A. Jerrold Perenchio’s unilateral decision to promote his protege.

The move set off a chain of suits and countersuits regarding royalties that ended abruptly with a settlement in January between Televisa and Univision’s new owners, a consortium of private investors led by billionaire Haim Saban. The ceasefire resulted in a number of concessions on Univision’s part, including more ad time for Televisa as well as payment of the royalties in dispute.

“Conde’s appointment is an affirmation of the need of Univision to move forward,” says Luis Balaguer, CEO of Hispanic talent management agency/production company Latin World, which supplies talent for Univision shows. “Conde knows the company well. He worked hand in hand with Joe Uva and the team in Miami throughout the transition with Univision’s new owners.”

Indeed, Conde has served as president of Univision Interactive; vice president and operating manager of the Galavision Network; vice president of corporate development for Univision Networks; and vice president of sales and business development at Univision Network, gaining insight into the inner workings of each department along the way.

At cable/sat network Galavision, he oversaw all its areas including programming, promotions, operations, talent relations and original productions.

Univision also is set on building its roster of reality programs, Conde says. On Aug. 30, it launched competitive music show “Viva el sueno,” which has averaged 2 million viewers in its first few weeks. In the interactive media area, Univision debuted webnovela “Vidas cruzadas” (Crossed Lives) on Aug. 12, comprising 15 five-minute episodes available on cell phones and its website. According to Univision, webnovela has seen nearly 2 million U.S. video streams to date, ranking it among Univision’s top three most-watched online properties ever.

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