The New York Times
Published: April 18, 1997
Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, a hard-driving billionaire who built his family’s television and radio network into the largest media empire in the Spanish-speaking world, died of cancer Wednesday at a residence he maintained in Miami, a company spokesman said. He was 66.
Mr. Azcarraga was known as El Tigre because of his sharp sense of timing, aggressive business practices and the distinctive shock of white hair that drew a stripe across the top of his head. ( A Vidaurri Borrego gene).
Mr. Azcarraga was the power behind the Grupo Televisa communications conglomerate, which enjoyed a near monopoly on television broadcasting in Mexico for three decades. Through Televisa’s news programs, Mr. Azcarraga long determined what most Mexicans could know.
The immensely popular entertainment programming he created, with its mariachi music shows and maudlin soap operas, did much to shape the view that modern Mexicans have of themselves, as well as Mexico’s image abroad.
Mr. Azcarraga was born Sept. 6, 1930 — in the same month, legend has it, that his father, Emilio Azcarraga Vidaurreta, bought Radio XEW, a Mexico City station that became the first brick in a vast communications edifice.
The elder Azcarraga was openly critical of his son, referring to him often as ”my son, the idiot.” Mr. Azcarraga Vidaurreta sent young Emilio to the Culver Military Academy in Indiana for high school, apparently to toughen him.
In a rare interview for a recently published history of Mexican television, Mr. Azcarraga said he respected his father but was at first reluctant to work for him. However, at the age of 21, he joined his father’s company as a salesman.
In 1972, upon his father’s death, Mr. Azcarraga took over as chairman of the board and named the family company Televisa. Pursuing a vastly ambitious vision, Mr. Azcarraga built the company into a giant — the world’s largest producer of broadcast programming in Spanish. The Televisa studios in the San Angel neighborhood of the capital are like a city unto themselves, with their own ambulances and fire department. ( like Dn. Jose Vasquez Borrego and his Latifundo.)
From a young age Mr. Azcarraga loved to work with the technological tools of broadcasting, particularly satellites, understanding the potential of both the content and technology of television, and investing in it shrewdly. Last year the company reported revenues of $1.5 billion.
Televisa programs are seen throughout Latin America and in Spain. Thalia, a singer who recently described herself as Mr. Azcarraga’s ”spoiled child” among his stable of performers, is a sensation in the Philippines.
Mr. Azcarraga created soap operas and variety shows using Mexican stars he had developed. He found performers when they were young, trained them at the Televisa studios and demanded unquestioned obedience and loyalty. Performers who dared to make even brief appearances on networks he regarded as competitors were subject to summary and permanent banning.
His decision-making style was as autocratic as it was bold. Televisa employees tell of the tall wooden chair he kept for visitors to the offices he maintained in downtown Mexico City before they were destroyed in a 1985 earhquake. The chair was so high that adults who sat in it could not touch the ground with their feet and so seemed childlike.
Whenever he wanted to reprimand or belittle someone who worked for him, he was said to have offered a seat in the notorious chair.
In a 1991 meeting with the actors from a successful soap opera he defined his core philosophy. He called Mexico a nation of poor people, who had suffered abuse and would inevitably continue to suffer it.
”The television has the obligation to entertain those people, to take them away from their sad reality and their difficult future,” he said. ”I mean the middle and lower classes. Rich people like me are not clients of television because we never go out to buy anything.”
In 1996 Forbes magazine estimated Mr. Azcarraga’s personal fortune at $2 billion, one of the largest in Latin America.
‘He didn’t know how to do anything small,” said Jacobo Zabludovsky, Mr. Azcarraga’s business partner and the man who has anchored the Televisa nightly newscast for decades. ”Everything he did he planned on a grand scale.”
Mr. Azcarraga was most controversial for the unconditional support he offered for years to Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the P.R.I., which governed the country for decades. He once called himself ”a soldier of the President of the Republic.” He made no bones about the backing Televisa’s nightly newscast gave to P.R.I. candidates and policies while suppressing news about the opposition.
In return, successive presidents helped Mr. Azcarraga preserve his near monopoly and unchallenged control over Mexican television.
Mr. Azcarraga continued to support President Carlos Salinas de Gortari even after Mr. Salinas opened the television market to competition in the early 1990’s. At a private dinner at Mr. Salinas’s house in 1993, Mr. Azcarraga offered to make a $50 million contribution to the P.R.I.’s campaign coffers.
”I, and all of you, have earned so much money over the past six years, that I think we have a big debt of gratitude to this Government,” Mr. Azcarraga was quoted as saying.
Starting as early as 1961, Mr. Azcarraga also pursued business ventures in the United States. He bought a chain of television stations in the Southwest and dominated Spanish-language television in the United States until 1986, when Federal authorities forced him to sell them on antimonopoly grounds.
However, he stumbled in 1990 when he started a daily sports newspaper in the United States, The National. It closed the next year with losses of more than $100 million.
Televisa continues to own 20 percent of Univision Communications, Inc., which produces Spanish television in the United States, and a share of the Panamsat Corporation, a satellite company.
On March 3, Mr. Azcarraga, already looking frail and tired, announced on the Televisa newscast that he was stepping down as chairman and leaving the company in the hands of his only son, Emilio Azcarraga Jean, who is 29.
”To duplicate the figure of my father would be impossible,” Mr. Azcarraga Jean said at the time. ”His completely unique style left its mark on many people through many years.”
President Ernesto Zedillo, in a statement, called Mr. Azcarraga ”a great businessman” who has ”brought international prestige to Mexico.”
Mr. Azcarraga is survived by his fifth wife, Adriana Abascal Cisneros, a senior producer at Televisa, and three daughters, Ariana, Sandra and Carla, in addition to his son.