Televisa tightens Univision's grip on U.S. market

MEXICO CITY Tue Oct 5, 2010 9:49pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Televisa, the soap opera powerhouse that is Mexico's top media company, is raising its bet on the fast-growing U.S. Hispanic market by investing $1.2 billion in debt-laden broadcaster Univision.

The investment gives Televisa an initial stake of 5 percent in Univision Communications Inc that could grow to as much as 40 percent eventually.

It also is a big step in repairing a relationship between partners that was damaged in recent years by royalty payment disputes and management fights.

The news of the investment in privately held Univision by Televisa pushed up the Mexican company's stock by over 12 percent.

"It is a game-changing event for both Televisa and Univision, not only for the growth potential of the U.S. Hispanic market ... but for the potential across all (media) platforms," Televisa Executive Vice President Alfonso de Angoitia told Reuters.

The deal initially would give Televisa a 5 percent stake in Univision plus a 30 percent equity stake from convertible debentures in the U.S. broadcaster when they mature in 15 years. The Mexican company will have an option to buy another 5 percent of Univision in three years.

U.S. law prohibits foreign broadcasters from owning over 25 percent of U.S. broadcasters. Televisa said it did not know how it would overcome that at present, but De Angoitia said he hoped that law would change eventually. He declined to comment further on that issue.

The agreement makes Televisa the main provider of programing that Univision broadcasts across the United States through 2020, adding three years to the previous deal as Televisa also seeks to reach U.S. Spanish speakers with its Internet and mobile phone content.

The deal gives Televisa better prices for its programs and solidifies Univision's position atop the U.S. Spanish-language market, leaving NBC's Telemundo a distant second.

Univision says it draws nearly 6 percent of primetime American viewers aged 18 to 49 as the Hispanic television market grows.

"This is a very good deal (for Televisa) as it repositions it in the U.S. market," said Martin Lara, an analyst with Itau Securities. "Plus, it gets higher royalties."

The deal marks a comeback for Televisa, which sold its 11 percent stake in Univision after losing the battle for ownership to a group led by Egypt-born entrepreneur Haim Saban, which bought Univision for $12.3 billion in 2006.

Televisa subsequently fought Univision in U.S. courts for better prices for its programing.

"Televisa is Univision and Univision is Televisa in the United States. Our interests are aligned now," Saban said in New York.

TELEVISA LAUGHS LAST?

De Angoitia told Reuters that Univision must restructure $3.25 billion in debt. At least $750 million would be a long-term bond.

According to de Angoitia, who is an ally of Televisa owner Emilio Azcarraga, Univision has $10.3 billion in debt.

Most of Univision's debt is due in 2014 but the company announced late on Tuesday that it is seeking amendments to its $8.0 billion in senior bank credit facilities by two and half years.

The extended credit facilities will be subject to modified interest rates, the company said.

The deal with Televisa will allow the U.S. broadcaster to pay down a significant chunk, and the extension of the programing agreement will make creditors more willing to buy longer term Univision debt, said Jake Newman at CreditSights in New York.

"This (agreement) improves the ability of Univision to get through the period of that maturity." he said.

Standard & Poor's placed Univision's "B-" rating on creditwatch with positive implications on Tuesday afternoon.

Shelly Lombard at New York-based Gimme Credit said Univision's buyers had taken on a lot of debt for an asset that has been hurt by declining radio revenue. High debt payments were crimping the chance to turn a profit on their investment.

She likened it to someone who had eaten a lot of pie and had a tight belt. "There was not a lot of breathing room at all, so this basically loosens the belt," she added.

Under the agreement, Univision will have unrestricted use of Televisa content for television, Internet, video on demand and mobile phones, de Angoitia said.

In exchange for the expanded rights and content, Televisa will receive through December 2017 larger royalties from Univision. Right now, royalties amount to 9.36 percent of television revenue, excluding certain soccer events, but this will rise to 11.91 percent through 2017.

After that, the rate would rise to 16.22 percent.

de Angoitia said additional royalties would total $50 million in 2011. In 2010, he projected total royalties of $150 million.

Barclays Capital projected that Televisa's royalties from Univision could triple by 2017.

Televisa's shares closed up 13.75 percent at $21.51 on the New York Stock Exchange while shares in Mexico gained 12.34 percent to end at 53.61 pesos.

"This could be looked at as Televisa's revenge, someone else paid too much for Univision and now Televisa is coming in and riding to the rescue," Lombard said.

(Additional reporting by Ken Li in New York and Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City; Missy Ryan, Leslie Gevirtz, Robert MacMillan and Carol Bishopric))

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