Comcast's deal-making worries Univision exec

United States' Landon Donovan celebrates his goal against Mexico during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in Columbus, Ohio.
United States' Landon Donovan celebrates his goal against Mexico during the second half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in Columbus, Ohio. (Associated Press)
Posted: May 03, 2014

Univision Communications Inc. executive Randel "Randy" Falco is warning that Comcast Corp.'s proposed $45.2 billion deal for Time Warner Cable Inc. could create a single cable-TV company that serves 91 percent of the nation's Hispanic households.

"That gives this new company staggering influence over Hispanic consumers," Falco said this week.

The nation's Hispanic population would be concentrated in the big Comcast/Time Warner Cable markets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.

Falco, Univision's chief executive officer and president, says the federal government needs to investigate and potentially impose tough conditions on Comcast/Time Warner Cable to protect minority TV viewers.

Comcast says the merged cable-TV and Internet company won't eliminate consumer choice because Comcast and Time Warner don't overlap and won't harm Hispanic TV viewers.

"Comcast has had an extraordinary, longstanding commitment to Hispanic programming, and through the transaction with Time Warner Cable, we are committed to bringing high-quality Hispanic content to millions of additional Americans," company spokesman John Demming said Thursday.

Univision feels particularly threatened, at least in part, because Comcast-owned Telemundo TV network has made no secret of its desire to challenge Univision for Hispanic eyeballs. Univision is the No. 1 Spanish-language TV network and Telemundo is the nation's No. 2.

Falco's concern seems to be that Comcast could use its vertical integration of TV distribution and content ownership to advantage Telemundo.

Univision and Telemundo already have clashed over TV rights to World Cup soccer matches. Telemundo will televise the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.

A current conflict involves distribution, or non-distribution, of three new Univision cable channels: Univision Deportes (a sports network), Univision tlNovelas and FOROtv.

Comcast hasn't distributed the channels to its millions of cable-TV subscribers while other major pay-TV companies have agreed to distribute them, Univision says. Among those companies is Time Warner Cable, which agreed last October to a new multiyear distribution agreement with Univision.

Some believe that Falco could be leveraging the Comcast/Time Warner Cable regulatory review in Washington to pressure the nation's largest cable operator to sign a distribution deal. Comcast says its actively negotiating over the three channels.

"We face vibrant competition from companies with national and global footprints - like AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV, DISH, Netflix, Amazon - all to the benefit of consumers," Comcast's Demming said in a statement.

"We will not have undue power in negotiating with programming networks, and we have a great record of working with programmers from the largest to the smallest."

Falco didn't say he opposed the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, only that it could be anti-competitive and a problem for Univision. He offered his comments when responding to a quesion from a Wall Street analyst during a conference call on Monday.

Falco seemed most vexed that Comcast hasn't distributed Univision Deportes. Univision says the network was the most-watched Spanish-language cable-TV sports channel in the United States during prime time, beating Spanish-language networks at ESPN and Fox.

"The risk of this merger really is not hypothetical," Falco said, "especially for providers like us who offer networks and services that compete with NBC and Telemundo and even NBC Sports."

bfernandez@phillynews.com

215-854-5897

@bobfernandez1

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