A group of Venezuelan, Florida-based private investors has taken controlling interest in struggling Vme Media,Inc., the U.S. Hispanic content and distribution company that owns Spanish-language network Vme and Vme Kids. Financial terms of the deal and the percentage of the ownership of the new investors were not disclosed.
Former AOL executive and founder and CEO of DailyMe.com Eduardo Hauser, is part of the investment group. He has been named Chairman of the board.
Three other members of the Cedel investment group – former banker Eligio Cedeño, attorney Victor Cerda and political strategist Juan José Rendón – will now also sit on the Vme board. They join Prisa CEO Manuel Polanco, Syncom managing partner Terry Jones and WNET’s VP and General Counsel Robert Feinberg.
Vme founder Mario Baeza stepped down as Chairman of the board, but will continue to have an ownership interest. Prisa keeps its stake as the largest shareholder.
According to Prisa’s website, the Spanish company owned 42.5% of Vme prior to the arrival of the new investment group.
Vme executives would not reveal the current division of the ownership, only saying that Cedel has controlling interest, and that it’s expected to increase over time.
The deal closed within the last week, although the official announcement was just made yesterday.
The leadership at Vme remains the same, at least for now: Alvaro Garnica, who took over the reins of Vme at the end of 2011 from Carmen Di Rienzo, stays on as General Manager, Richard Taub continues as CFO and SVP Business Development, Doris Vogelmann as VP of Programming & Operations and RoseLynn Marra as VP Affiliate Relations & Communications.
“We step into Vme with a lot of respect for the people that are there, with respect to the integrity of the brand,” says Hauser. “We want to amplify, but not change that.”
Hauser admits that could change in the future. “When there are new investors, there’s a period of adjustment. Some folks are quicker to adapt, others, not so much,” but he insists the new investors “want to preserve the main components of the Vme experience.”
Hauser says he had been looking for investment opportunities in the television market for a while. “After I left my role at AOL, my role has been mostly as investor or a start up guy…. I wasn’t proactively seeking for something in the Hispanic television space. This one just happened to come across, and I do believe there’s tremendous opportunity in this space.”
According to Hauser, the bankers running the investment process for the financially strapped Vme separately approached him and Eligio Cedeño.
“By the time the bankers had approached us, Eligio and I had already previously been talking about strategies for Soi, his prior television investment. At one point we said why don’t we take a look at Vme and analyze Vme from the lens of an investment opportunity and we did. We sort of came to this process through two different paths that led to the same place.”
The bulk of the investment comes from Eligio Cedeño, who in 2011 founded internet startup Soi TV. Cedeño was granted political asylum in the U.S. after spending 34 months in jail without trial in Venezuela, accused by his country’s government of fraud and violating currency regulations -charges his attorneys claimed were false and consequence of his support of President Hugo Chavez’s opposition.
Hauser says the new investment group believes in Vme’s mission. “We think Vme is a very unique asset. We believe education is a very important for Hispanics….With the right programming, right tone and relationship of trust, you become relevant to the audience.”
Hauser recognizes that one of their major challenges will be to overcome lack of recognition of the Vme brand in the Hispanic market, but that they’ll “work hard and make the necessary investment to elevate the awareness of Vme higher than it has ever been.”
The 24-hour Spanish network, which is a private-public enterprise, is distributed through many PBS stations and has direct relationships with satellite and cable providers such as DirectTV, DISH, Verizon and ATT Uverse.
According to Vme, the network is currently available in more than 70 million homes including 10 million Hispanic homes reaching nearly 80 percent of the market.
The network has 6 original programs, in addition to “enlatados orgánicos” – “organic acquisitions” – what Hauser refers to as higher quality, educational shows.
Vme also airs two shows produced by journalist Jorge Gestoso: “Jorge Gestoso Investiga” and “Cara a Cara.”
The network’s new programming slate will be announced at the New York upfronts on May 15.