Univision, Dish Retransmission Dispute Threatens Carriage

Univision Communications Inc., which has successfully navigated retransmission consent deals with some 50 distributors, has reached an impasse with Dish Network that, sources say, could result in the leading U.S. Spanish-language network losing its carriage on the No. 2 satellite distributor come April 2.

At the same time, Univision has reached a retransmission-consent deal in principle with No. 2 cable operator Time Warner Cable, whose carriage deal is also set to expire.

Univision has already signed retransmission accords with the nation's two largest distributors Comcast Corp. and DirecTV, plus a host of other carriers.

Univision and Dish, according to sources familiar with the situation, are at odds over compensation for the signals of the network, broadcast brethren TeleFutura and cable cousin Galavision, and the company's stations, as well as positioning.

Univision stations -- the company owns and operates 64 around the nation -- are carried on Dish local packages, while the three networks are available on the satellite operator's AT 200, Dish Latino and other Hispanic-themed programming packages.

Sources indicated that the parties have been negotiating for more than half a year. The Spanish-language media giant, on March 26, began running spots in select markets informing Dish customers that they may lose access to the trio of networks after April 1.

The parties' contract actually expires at 11:59 p.m. on March 31. However, according to the sources familiar with the negotiations, the signal would not be lost until midnight on April 2 because April 1 is the final day of the sweeps period. The sweeps, the period when TV stations set local advertising rates, was pushed into March because there was fear of viewer disruption tied to the original digital TV transition date of Feb. 17. The hard date deadline is now June 12.

A Univision spokeswoman issued the following statement Sunday night: "After months of negotiations, Dish Networks is making unreasonable demands from Univision that it does not make from English-language broadcasters. As a result, after April 1, Dish subscribers will no longer have access to Univision, Galavisión and TeleFutura, unless the parties reach an agreement. We are extremely disappointed that Dish doesn't see the value in providing its customers access to the #1 Spanish-language broadcast and cable networks servicing the rapidly growing Hispanic population."

Univision declined to specify what deal terms were holding up an accord. However, the company has been seeking cash compensation for the retransmission of the signals of its networks, and its TV stations.

"It is unfortunate for Dish customers that their television provider is refusing to accept terms that have now been embraced by the marketplace, as evidenced by the more than 50 distributors that have executed deals with Univision in the last three months, including the largest cable and satellite companies," the spokeswoman said. "Univision is committed to working diligently to reach a fair agreement with Dish so that its subscribers can continue to have access to vital news, information and entertainment."

Dish Network officials, citing corporate policy, do not comment on contract negotiations.

If Univision sees thing as dire with Dish, it was more confident that a pact would be reached with the No. 2 MSO Time Warner Cable.

"Negotiations with Time Warner Cable are going very well," said the spokeswoman. "We have reached a deal in principal, and we're confident that we'll finalize a mutually beneficial agreement before our current deal expires."

The contract is set to concluded on March 31.

In 2007, Univision disclosed that for the first time it would seek retransmission-consent, rather than must-carry for its 64 stations. During a press conference following its May 2007 upfront presentation to advertisers in New York, Univision Communications CEO Joe Uva declared that the company would seek license fees of $1 per subscriber for its stations.

While it's unclear what terms the company has reached with the different distributors to date, some cable operators have indicated that Univision has lowered its license-fee asking price substantially since then.

The Spanish-language media leader in January inked a multiyear, retransmission-consent deal with Comcast and followed with a pact with Dish satellite rival DirecTV on March 3.

Two days later Univision announced that it had added AT&T U-verse and Insight Communications to its roster with multiyear agreements. It also disclosed at that time, that it had finalized over 50 retransmission-consent deals with such video providers as Atlantic Broadband, Baja Broadband, Etan Industries, Grande Communications, Guadalupe Valley Communications, Qwest Communications, Service Electric and TVMAX.