Lee cast the parting as amicable. It follows on the heels of a CEO transition at Univision in June, when broadcast TV veteran Vincent Sadusky took the reins from Randy Falco. The company has been in a restructuring mode and is now looking to sell the English-language digital businesses that Lee championed as acquisitions to diversify Univision’s portfolio.
Lee’s departure closely follows that of Univision entertainment president Lourdes Diaz, who joined Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios television division earlier this month.
Lee told Variety he believed Univision and its Mexican partner Televisa were well-positioned for the future. Televisa executive Patricio Wills will take over Lee’s duties as head of content.
“I set out to restructure the content operations of Televisa and Univision to ensure that both companies worked in unison, that what Televisa produced would take into consideration the needs of the U.S. Hispanic market,” Lee said. “There never has been a closer relationship than now,” he said.
Lee is concluding nearly eight years with Univision where he led Univision News, Univision Digital and eventually all content including websites the Onion and Gizmodo Media Group, which encompassed brands such as Deadspin, Jezebel, the Root, Splinter, and Lifehacker. He was named Univision chief content officer in January 2017.
Lee plans to launch his own TV production company and help with the transition at Univision as needed. The still-unnamed holding company will develop original content and acquire production companies across Latin America and the U.S. in a bid to “aggregate the best possible talent and projects,” Lee said.
With more major companies spending on Latin American content, great opportunities abound, Lee said, pointing to Netflix’s growing lineup of Hispanic content, HBO’s recent order of two original series, Spain’s Movistar commissioning of content and Fox Networks Group (FNG) Latin America backing of Gael Garcia Bernal’s political thriller series, “Here on Earth,” renewed for a second season. FNG Latin America has 10 series in production for 2018, and thrice that in development, primarily to feed its Fox Premium service.
Struggling with sector-wide challenges facing their core broadcasting businesses, both Univision and Televisa have seen shakeups in their executive ranks. At Univision, Falco announced his plans to leave in March just four months after he signed a two-year contract extension. Late last year, Televisa’s CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean stepped down after 20 years at the helm of the Mexican media empire his grandfather co-founded, although he remains executive chairman of the board. A failed bid for an IPO has forced Univision to reorganize, laying off some 200 employees amid plans to sell some of its digital assets.
“Univision has the right CEO to manage and navigate a disrupted media landscape,” said Lee, who expressed his gratitude to Univision and Televisa. Sadusky’s hire has been seen by industry observers as a sign that Univision will soon step up efforts to find a buyer for its TV networks and more than 60 owned-and-operated stations across the country.
Lee helped steer Univision through a period of rapid change and efforts to modernize the network’s operations. Lee and Wills recently kickstarted the first-ever pilot season in Spanish-language television for Mexico and the U.S., opening the doors to 56 independent producers who pitched 118 projects, some of them already in production.
At Univision, Isaac created the Los Angeles-based premium content development and production hub, Story House, which produces scripted and non-scripted programming in English and Spanish. Story House has delivered three seasons of “El Chapo “for Netflix, as well as a series of documentaries including “Hate Rising,” “Residente,” docu-series “Outpost” and the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” which won the Sundance Audience Award in 2018. A new drama, “Tijuana,” set in the Mexican border town, is in production. Two additional docu-series, “Murder Mountain” and “Who Killed Malcolm X,” also for Netflix, are in production. The focus of Story House has been to reveal the true and authentic cultural diversity of America.
During Lee’s tenure, Univision News won more than 100 prestigious awards in the field of journalism, including several Emmys, the Premio de Periodismo Rey de España, IRE, Cronkite, Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia, Peabody and Edward R. Murrow amongst others.
Journalist and TV producer Daniel Coronell will continue as president of News at UCI.
Lee said he will shuttle between Los Angeles and Mexico for his new venture.