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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