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Univision Warns of Possible Charter Communications Blackout in New York, LA

Variety logo Variety 1/28/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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Univision stations in New York, Los Angeles and other big markets could go dark for Charter Communications subscribers at the end of the month as the Spanish-language giant tussles over carriage terms with the nation’s second-largest cable operator.

The two sides are already in litigation over what Univision says is Charter’s breach of contract agreements that predate its merger with Time Warner Cable, which was completed last year. Univision maintains that the merger required Charter to renegotiate its retransmission consent agreement to carry Univision’s stations.

Univision began warning viewers of the potential blackout with on-air messages in the affected markets. Charter, meanwhile, maintains that it has a long-term contract to carry Univision’s stations. That could set the stage for legal action by Charter to bar Univision from pulling its signals.

“We have a contract with Univision and expect them to honor it,” Charter said in a statement.

It’s not clear how many Univision O&Os are in Charter markets, but Charter is the largest cable provider in New York and Los Angeles, and it has a big presence in Texas — all some of which are big markets for Spanish-language TV.

Univision has accused Charter of throwing its weight around at the expense of consumers at a time when the news and information Univision provides to Spanish-speaking viewers is more vital than ever, given the political climate in the country and President Trump’s plans regarding economic and immigration policies. Univision said its efforts to reach a settlement to allow the stations to stay up have been rejected.

“This is a perfect example of how a behemoth cable company like Charter uses its excessive market power to harm content companies and the millions of subscribers who rely on Univision and its suite of networks for vital news and information in language,” Univision said. “Despite Univision’s many attempts to resolve the dispute by offering good-faith settlement solutions, Charter has rejected all of Univision’s efforts. Given this unfortunate impasse, Univision has no choice but to inform Charter’s customers that they may lose access to Univision’s networks and stations. Univision is committed to continuing to fight for the dignity and value of our community in the marketplace and the important role we play in providing a voice for Hispanic America during these uncertain times.”

The fight boils down to a dispute over which contracts govern Charter’s deals with Univision — the pre-merger contracts that Charter had in force, or the deals that Time Warner Cable had in place at the time of the merger. Time Warner Cable was a much bigger provider than Charter, so it was able to secure more advantageous terms for retransmission consent with Univision. Univision maintains that Charter is in breach of its pre-merger contract because the company has shifted to paying Univision under the more favorable Time Warner Cable terms across the board.

Fox News has a lawsuit pending against Charter on similar grounds.

A showdown with Univision could be the first big public relations battle for Charter since it vaulted into the top echelon of MVPDs. Charter at present has about 17 million video subscribers. A disruption in service for Univision on Charter systems could be politically touchy for the company at a time when there is heightened attention to diversity and inclusion in the media and cultural landscape.

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