Jul 9, 2019

The battle for the future of Spanish-language TV

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Univision, one of the two major Spanish-language broadcasters in the U.S., is in the early stages of exploring a sale, the company announced last week following a Wall Street Journal report.

Details: It's looking for a strategic partner to help it scale so that it can be more competitive on advertising and distribution deals. It's looking to sell now because sources say it's tied up the majority of its distribution agreements, and at this time, there is not one expiring soon.

Be smart: It's a buyer's market, as The Information's Jessica Toonkel points out. And there doesn't seem to be many buyers waving their hands at the last remaining independent broadcasting company, but it's still very early in the process.

Why it matters: It remains unclear what will be the long-term fate of Univision without a strategic buyer. But the Hispanic population is the fastest-growing minority population in the U.S., so one would hope that the market can support at least two Hispanic broadcasting companies.

Meanwhile, Univision's biggest competitor, Telemundo, seems to be reaping the benefits from its 2011 acquisition by NBCUniversal.

  • As The New York Times' Michael Grynbaum notes, the company has focused on building its news programming, and has seen success in the key advertising demo for weekday primetime viewership over the past three seasons. It's also invested heavily in live sports coverage, spending big bucks to poach Univision's World Cup rights.
  • Yes, but: Univision still tops in overall primetime ratings. The company closed the 2018-2019 broadcast season as the top Spanish-language network in primetime for the 27th consecutive season.

Our thought bubble: For Univision, and for all network TV companies, one difficult aspect of its sales pitch will be its renewed focus on live, as cable operators get pickier about carrying expensive channels.

  • The company sold its English-language digital assets, the Gizmodo Media Group, in April to focus on live TV, but it's still had some distribution hiccups.
  • Last year, the company experienced a months-long TV "blackout," from Dish, which impacted viewership. Eventually, Dish and Univision were able to strike a deal, even after Dish CEO Charlie Ergen said the blackout would be "probably permanent."

What's next: Univision's next big hurdle will be ensuring that it can strike distribution deals with all of the major cable carriers, so as not to experience similar blackout headaches as it did in 2018.

Go deeper: Spanish-language media is having a local news boom

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Dish chairman: We could have first 5G city up by late 2020

Dish chairman Charlie Ergen in 2012. Photo: Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Rather than try to convince skeptics he is serious about the wireless business, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen tells Axios he is going to focus on building a 5G network as fast as possible. Ideally, he said he wants the first city up and running by late next year.

Why it matters: With the deal announced on Friday, Dish has all the spectrum it needs to build a national 5G network, but critics have been skeptical the company has the commitment to do so.

Go deeperArrowJul 26, 2019

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen says history will vindicate him on 5G

Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen speaking at the University of Colorado in 2012. Photo: Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Charlie Ergen knows there are plenty of people who don't believe Dish has the skill or commitment to truly rival the national wireless carriers. But answering to critics is not where Dish's chairman is putting his energy.

"I don't personally believe we are going to change any skeptics' minds, and we are not going to try to. We're just going to do it. We'll go out and build a 5G city, and then people can see it and see why that is different and better."
— Ergen told me in an interview on Friday

What's happening: As first reported by Axios, Ergen's plan for Dish is to transform the Boost prepaid brand it's getting from Sprint into a full-service wireless effort and then go out and build a nationwide 5G network, one city at a time. Ideally, Ergen wants the first city with Dish's 5G network running by the end of 2020.

Go deeperArrowJul 29, 2019

2019 sees record number of TV blackouts

Data: Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, and The American Television Alliance; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

With five months left in the year, 2019 has already set the record for the highest number of television blackouts in history, according to new data from the American Television Alliance (ATVA).

Why it matters: The programming blackouts are happening as a result of an increase in disputes between TV networks and their distributors — mainly cable and satellite companies — over how much networks should charge distributors for the right to air their content.

Go deeperArrowJul 23, 2019