Spain’s longest-serving top TV exec, Javier Diez de Polanco, has ankled as head of film and TV at Prisa and CEO of Sogecable, its TV company.

He will be replaced by Pedro Garcia Guillen, general manager of Prisa’s newspaper El Pais.

Diez de Polanco’s departure comes in the wake of Sogecable’s recession-ravaged first-quarter results. Sogecable includes pay TV operator Digital Plus and broadcast network Cuatro.

Revenues dropped 10% to E456.7 million ($608.3 million) January through March. Operating profits plunged 88% to $43.6 million, hit by lower subscriber expenditure at Digital Plus and falling ad sales at Cuatro.

The stock market reacted with a slight uptick to Diez de Polanco’s exit, Prisa share value edging up in early morning trading.

Prisa needs to sell Digital Plus to decrease Prisa’s debt mountain of $6.7 billion. That sale now looks more likely.

“There were rumored differences between Prisa CEO Juan Luis Cebrian and Javier Diez de Polanco, with the latter said to be against the divestment of the pay TV unit,” said one analyst. “His exit may be taken by some as a sign that the divestment is imminent.”

Since 1998, when he was named Sogecable CEO, Diez de Polanco has battled to make pay TV a going business in Spain.

Spaniards are unaccustomed to paying for TV and Spain lacks the large middle classes that has allowed France’s Canal Plus Group to run up 10.6 million subscriptions.

Subscriber numbers — languishing around 2 million — have been held in check by online piracy. Media conglom Mediapro, which has signed up most Spanish league soccer rights from the 2009-10 season, has further fogged Sogecable’s future.