Univision CEO out as IPO looms

Saban to assume responsibilities until new hire set

As Haim Saban and Univision’s private equity backers begin to mull taking the Spanish-lingo media giant public, they decided to make a change at the top and not renew the contract of CEO Joe Uva.

Uva will resign effective April 2 after four years in the post. Saban, Univision’s exec chairman, will assume additional responsibilities until a new CEO is appointed, Univision said. A search firm has yet to be hired, according to a source.

Randy Falco, Univision’s exec veep and chief operating officer who joined the company in January after a stint at AOL and a long career at NBC, is also taking over some of Uva’s responsibilities in the interim. But a source said it is not a lock that Falco will be tapped for the top job. Falco oversees all revenue-driving functions for the company including ad sales, distribution sales and affiliate relations, as well as the operation of the television and radio station groups, corporate marketing, research and corporate business development. He’s based in New York and reported to Uva, who recommended him to Univision.

In 2007, Univision was sold for $13 billion to a consortium led by billionaire investor Saban and private equity backers TPG Capital, Thomas H. Lee Partners, Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn.

Since then, Univision has restructured its debt, boosted ratings to all-time highs, struck sports rights deals, in TV and digital, for the FIFA World Cup, and eliminated an major headache and red flag for Wall Street by ending its longstanding dispute with Grupo Televisa. Last year, Televisa agreed to buy a 5% stake in Univision, which cleared up the legal thicket between the two companies and assured Univision’s access to Televisa’s top-rated telenovela productions for years to come.

With the ad market recovering and census projections for Hispanic population growth in the U.S. exceeding earlier estimates, Univision’s private equity backers believe the time might be right to pursue an initial public offering. At the same time, tey believed Uva was not the right person to sell the company to investors, according to a source. Although it is privately-held, Univision continues to report its quarterly financials in the manner of a public company.

In a statement, Uva said he “decided the time is right for me to capitalize on other opportunities.”

Before joining Univision after the Saban-led buyout, Uva served as CEO of ad buying giant OMD Worldwide and before that was a longtime sales executive at Turner Broadcasting.

Uva’s departure comes at a time when its distant rival, NBCUniversal’s Telemundo, has scored double-digit ratings for its new 10 p.m. telenovela “Queen of the South” (La reina del sur) for the first time. Univision has shifted its programming to try to regain its dominance in that slot.

In reporting earnings for the period ending Dec. 31, Uva boasted that during the quarter Univision was the only network to increase its primetime audience with adults 18-49 (13%) and adults 18-34 (11%). He added that the network was only poised to grow, pointing out that Hispanic populations continue to rise in at least 16 states. In the quarter, Uva cited the ratings success of one of its hit novelas, “Soy Tu Duena.”

Univision revenues grew 12% in the quarter to $577 million, and by 14% for the full year to $2.2 billion. The net loss for the quarter widened to $632 million, in part because of the costs to extinguish debt and because of settlement costs stemming from the Televisa lawsuit.