In a programming dispute, Joaquin Blaya resigned as president of the Univision television network Tuesday to become president and chief executive of its chief rival in the Spanish-language market, Telemundo Group Inc.
Blaya said he left Univision--where he had been employed 22 years--because of programming changes planned by the group that wants to purchase Univision, headed by investor A. Jerrold Perenchio.
In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission about the proposed purchase from Hallmark Cards Corp., Perenchio indicated that he plans to fill most of the time on Univision's nine owned-and-operated stations with programming from Mexico and Venezuela. The current lineup, established under Blaya's auspices, consists of 50% foreign-produced and 50% U.S. programming.
Perenchio's partners in the proposed $550-million purchase are Emilio Azcarraga, the media baron who owns Mexico City-based Grupo Televisa, the world's largest producer and exporter of Spanish-language programming, and Ricardo and Gustavo Cisneros, who own Venevision, Venezuela's largest media group. Perenchio will have a 75% interest in the stations and 50% interest in the network, according to the FCC document.
Blaya, 46, said Perenchio assured him when the sale was announced last month that the investor shared his commitment to domestically produced programming. But upon reading the FCC filing, Blaya said, he concluded that opportunities for locally produced shows at Univision would drop dramatically.
"The document says that with the exception of local news and public affairs, everything is going to be (coming from) Venevision and Televisa," Blaya said.
A spokesman for Perenchio disputed Blaya's interpretation, arguing that it would make no sense to radically alter the existing programming. "The commitment will remain to program at the station level to reflect community needs, viewing habits and local and national advertising markets," the spokesman said.
Blaya has long championed the cause of locally produced Spanish-language programming.
"For the last four years, I have emphasized the need for product made in the United States that was in tune with the needs and concerns of Hispanics in this country," he said. "The attractiveness of this offer with Telemundo was that I can continue with what has been my vision of many years now."
At Telemundo, which owns KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Los Angeles and eight other stations, he replaced a three-man "office of the president."
Ray Rodriguez was named to replace Blaya as president and chief executive of Univision, whose stations include KMEX-TV Channel 34 in Los Angeles. Rodriguez was senior vice president of Univision.
Univision is the leader in Spanish-language television in the United States, reaching about 60% of the Spanish-speaking audience. Telemundo reaches 40%.
"Telemundo is the underdog," Blaya said. "It makes it very exciting. The underdog bites harder."
The proposed Univision sale is under review by the FCC.