MCNWW 2015 Sarah Madigan: Univision’s Tough but Fair Negotiator


TITLE: EVP, Content Distribution, Univision Communications

AGE: 38

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Before joining Univision in 2011, Madigan was VP of Distribution, Business and Legal Affairs, at BBC Worldwide Americas; she previously served as an associate at the law firms Greenberg Traurig and WilmerHale.

QUOTE: “As a person who had expertise in another area and moving into media, I really try to dive in and learn and talk to as many people in this space, driven as much by my own panic as much as anything else.”

Opportunity knocks. And it rings, too.

It was a phone call out of the blue that helped to catapult the still-rising cable, media and television career of Sarah Madigan, the executive vice president of content distribution for Univision Communications.

A corporate lawyer by trade, Madigan’s big industry break came way of a “completely serendipitous decision to answer my phone” when a recruiter from another law firm called to inquire about her interest in practicing in the media and entertainment sector, she recalled. In addition to taking the call, she also took the job with Greenberg Traurig’s Media and Entertainment division, which set her up to represent several companies in those sectors, including Univision Communications and Scripps Networks.

“My big career takeaway from that is: pick up the phone, and be open to that [opportunity] when it comes, because you never know when it’s going to,” Madigan said.

And how many calls go into voice mail now? “Not many!”


After joining Greenberg Traurig in May 2008, Madigan spent the next 18 months working closely with Univision as it negotiated its first round of cash-for-retransmission consent deals.

It was also then that she first started to work with two women she considers as mentors — Tonia O’Connor, Univision’s president, content distribution and corporate business development (and Madigan’s current boss); and Lynne Costantini, then with Scripps and now president of business development at TheBlaze.

Madigan is naturally curious and resourceful, both women said, a fair-but-tough negotiator who strives to strike the best deal for her side while showing empathy for the other.

“She’s very disarming and she doesn’t intimidate people. For that reason, people really open themselves up to her, which creates opportunities for her and for the company to build really strong relationships,” O’Connor said.

“I found her to be very spirited, tenacious, clearly willing to take risks,” said Costantini, who worked with Madigan when Food Network was negotiating its first rate reset. “She fights fair. It’s never personal for her, and she’s always respectful of the other person’s position and the other person, period.”

Madigan continues to put those skills in play at Univision, where she oversees content sales and strategies for its broadcast, cable and digital networks.

And with broadband now a prime conduit for video consumption, she also finds herself on the leading edge, investigating a variety of new and emerging distribution models, including those involving “virtual” multichannel video programming distributors and over-the-top multichannel networks (MCNs).

MCNs represent a “very interesting space,” Madigan said, noting that Univision has a relationship with YouTube. On the OTT front, Univision has distribution with Yaveo, DirecTV’s budding Spanish-language service.

“I think we’re starting to see a real phase of proliferation in terms of distributors in this space and new business models, which I see as a huge opportunity for the industry,” she said.

Although the pressures of deal-making and new distribution models keep Madigan on her toes, she does strive to maintain a work/life balance, leaving room for other passions and interests. “I’m a huge eater,” she said. But don’t call her a foodie. “I take all comers in the food department,” said Madigan, the daughter of an artist and a chef.

Art — as in the art of the deal — carries forth, but culinary parts of her upbringing are also apparent. “There’s nothing I like doing more than reading a recipe so that I can tinker with it and make it my own,” she said.

She also loves to read (perfect for those daily subway rides), and is a “huge music nerd,” noting that she was an indie rock and punk rock DJ during her college and law school days. “I don’t DJ anymore, except at home for my wife when I’m playing my iTunes playlist for her.”

Madigan said the courage to carve out that balance comes in part from O’Connor, recalling an “absolutely brutal deal cycle” that required calls and negations to seep into the weekend. But O’Connor still made a point to extract herself from the deal-making fray to attend a church service in which one of her sons was to participate.

“I’m definitely a person who is inclined to workaholism … and that really made an impression on me about prioritizing your life in a 360-degree way as a person,” Madigan said.


And even at work, it’s not all about business. Madigan is a champion of Orgullo (Spanish for “pride”), a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally (LGBTA) employee group launched last year at Univision.

“Launching a LGBTA employee group is no easy task, but working with Sarah made it better for everyone,” Chiqui Cartagena, Univision’s vice president, political and advocacy and Orgullo’s co-lead, said. “She is such an amazing human being with such a capacity for love and compassion, she just brings magic to everything she touches.”

Orgullo, Madigan said, “has been a labor of love for a lot of people, including myself, and is one of the more moving things I’ve done in my professional career.”

And in addition to answering the phone, Madigan has more practical advice for women trying to rise through the ranks.

“Finding a work environment where you can be yourself, that you’re naturally passionate about, is the best way to be successful professionally and the best way to be happy personally,” she said.