This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
NBCUniversal has hired Emilio Romano, a long-time media and airline executive, to run its Spanish-language television network Telemundo and cable channel mun2.
He replaces longtime Telemundo president Don Browne, who retired last spring. Browne had been a top manager within Telemundo since NBC acquired the network in 2002.
Romano, who takes the reins in October, comes aboard at a time when the stakes are high for Telemundo. After Comcast Corp. took over NBCUniversal this year, it singled out the Spanish-language operation as an area that should improve its second-run status to achieve substantial growth.
The media company reached outside its ranks in selecting Romano, who has worked as an airline executive and a manager within the Mexico City-based television behemoth Grupo Televisa.
Romano served as chief executive of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion from 2004-2007, and was responsible for the airline’s largest financial restructuring in its 87-year history. NBCUniversal also said he organized the launch of Click Mexicana, the first low-cost carrier in Mexico, and engineered the sale of Mexicana de Aviacion to an investor group.
“His extensive knowledge of Hispanic media combined with a proven track record running large-scale businesses will be a great addition to the Telemundo management team," his new boss, Lauren Zalaznick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment and Digital Networks and Integrated Media, said in a statement.
"We will benefit greatly from his expertise across multiple media platforms -- particularly in the Mexican market -- as we continue to broaden Telemundo’s overall appeal in the vibrant and diverse Hispanic community.”
Telemundo has long struggled trying to appeal to Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants who make up two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population. The network's strength has largely been among Hispanics on the East Coast, whereas Telemundo's rival Univision Communications has been the dominant force reaching the huge population of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans.
Univision has an advantage in the U.S. Spanish-language media industry because of its lucrative partnership with Televisa. Since the early 1990s, Univision has depended on the low-cost soap operas called telenovelas that Televisa produces in Mexico to fuel its gigantic prime-time ratings. Univision is now the fifth largest television network in the U.S., and on some nights beats NBC.
Telemundo is a much smaller operation. Romano will be in charge of the Telemundo broadcast network and its 14 owned TV stations, including the network's entertainment division and TV studio. He will oversee the network's sales and marketing arm as well as its news and sports divisions. His portfolio includes mun2, the cable channel that targets young bicultural Latinos.
"As reflected in the latest U.S. Census and the dramatic increase in both viewership and advertising within the Hispanic community these past few years, this exciting market is well poised for explosive growth," Romano said in the statement.
Early in his career, Romano held various positions within the Mexican Ministry of Finance. A native of Mexico City, he resides in Miami -- where Telemundo is based -- with his wife and two daughters.
Romano worked in the late 1990s as Televisa's director of mergers and acquisitions and later as vice president of international operations with oversight of more than 500 employees. From 1995 to 1998, he was a member of Univision Communications' board.
In 2001, he co-founded Border Group LLC, and worked as a consultant to entertainment and media companies.
[For the Record, 12:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Romano served as chief executive of Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion from 2003-2004]
-- Meg James
Photo: Telemundo President Emilio Romano. Credit: NBCUniversal.