New Univision CEO Updates Investors On Dish Talks, Rebuilding Effort

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Vince Sadusky, who replaced Randy Falco two months ago as CEO of Univision, briefed investors on his efforts to rejuvenate the Hispanic media giant in his first earnings conference call in his new role.

The first extended public comments by the CEO, who is familiar with the U.S. Hispanic space from a prior stint as an executive at rival Telemundo, offered a directional snapshot of the company. While it is privately held, Univision releases quarterly results and holds regular conference calls because of its deep ties with publicly traded companies. Earlier this morning, the company said soft ad revenue dragged down the company’s overall second-quarter results.

On the call, Sadusky didn’t minimize the task ahead, noting his “diligence” before taking the job and his efforts to familiarize himself quickly with its operations and personnel. With Falco’s exit, most other key creative positions have also seen turnover and the company has said it will lay off about 6% of its workforce as part of a long-planned restructuring.

His honeymoon period has been brief. Sadusky faced numerous questions on the call about the status and stakes of carriage talks with Dish Network. Univision’s networks have been dark on the satellite distributor’s system for about a month. “It feels like they’re pretty well dug in,” Sadusky said. He warned that unless Dish returns to the bargaining table with serious intent, the company would begin a full-scale wooing effort to get the 1 million-plus subscribers to Dish Latino as well as millions more general viewers to switch to Univision’s OTT service UTV Now or other mea. “This could be long-term,” he warned. “This could be permanent.” He said Univision is “not asking them to do anything outrageous,” only to acknowledge that “our deal is old.”

Sadusky and other executives repeatedly declined to specify either the total number of subscribers affected or estimate the financial hit the blackout is causing. With 100 million total U.S. subscribers across all of its broadcast, cable and digital platforms, quantifying the number of subscribers affected “is not the way to think about our distribution business,” contended CFO Peter Lori.

Another area Sadusky addressed was programming, especially the efforts of Univision’s affiliate, Spanish-language production behemoth Televisa. “We’re bound at the hip,” Sadusky said, but “in recent years it’s been problematic. … Telenovelas we’ve all been accustomed to” started to decline as restless viewers sought something different. NBCU’s Telemundo has gained market share in recent years by boosting production budgets and mounting shows with a greater prestige factor and less soapy tone. Those qualities resonated with viewers, many of whom have been consuming English-language “peak TV” staples like Breaking Bad and its many successors.

In a startling, sporting overture to a bitter rival with whom Univision has long traded barbs over the years, Sadusky added, “Give Telemundo credit.”

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