NBCU unit taking aim at Spanish-language leader Univision

NBCUniversal has been aggressively courting U.S. Hispanics since shortly after the Comcast merger, but only now has flagship NBCU Spanish-language property Telemundo put its management team in place. The company on Wednesday tapped former Grupo Televisa exec Emilio Romano for the top spot at the broadcaster.

The move unmistakably takes aim at Univision, which has long dominated the market through its first-look deal with Televisa, a huge Spanish-lingo TV studio and a 5% stakeholder in the net. Univision was the only top-five broadcaster to gain audience in the 2010-11 season.

Telemundo has 14 owned-and-operated stations and Telemundo Studios, along with sister nets including Telemundo Puerto Rico and Stateside cabler Mun2, on which NBCU has placed new emphasis.

Asked how he planned to approach competition with his old employers, Romano said the new management at NBCU has given him plenty of resources. “We have this wonderful ownership structure with Comcast and NBCUniversal, and we think we have the resources and the right ownership to make the necessary investments going forward,” Romano said.

Telemundo falls under NBCU exec Lauren Zalaznick’s division ? entertainment & digital networks and integrated media, which she chairs ? and is already a major part of Zalaznick’s push for more Hispanic viewership with cross-platform marketing initiative Hispanics at NBCU, launched in April.

Similar projects, notably Women at NBCU, have attracted advertisers looking to target a specific kind of consumer with campaigns designed inhouse by NBCU to reach that demo. With census data indicating a huge (and largely underserved) Hispanic population in the U.S., the race is on to earn and keep the loyalty of Hispanic consumers.

That may mean further shakeups at Telemundo in the coming months ? Romano is hardly known for his passive management style. At his most recent post at airline Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion, he oversaw a companywide restructuring that boosted the carrier’s cost-per-mile by 30%, largely by negotiating with the labor unions involved.

Before that, Romano ran GrupoTelevisa’s mergers & acquisitions unit, where he oversaw the company’s joint venture with News Corp., Sky Latin America. Eventually, he became Televisa’s veep of operations. He also served on Univision’s board of directors and at one point managed Cablevision, the largest cable net in Mexico.

Zalaznick said Romano’s hire gives her “a very difficult puzzle piece ? he’s a perfect fit.” The company’s approach to Hispanic-focused content, Zalaznick said, is evolving. One of NBCU’s most successful shows in that demo is a “The Fast & the Furious”-style novela on Mun2 called “RPM Miami,” which is bilingual. “I no longer view it as taking a Hispanic business and plugging it into general market businesses,” Zalaznick said. “The drivers here are the same as the drivers in my other businesses. It’s an exact right balance of the creative forces.”

Romano replaces Don Browne, who retired in April. Romano will officially report to work some time in October and will be based in the company’s Miami offices.

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