WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Spanish-language television network Univision said on Monday that Comcast Corp’s plan to buy rival Time Warner Cable Inc could be “bad for Hispanic audiences.”
Univision President Randy Falco said on a conference call with media analysts that the proposed $45 billion deal, which would bring together the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. cable providers, was a “cause for concern.”
“We are hoping at the very least there is that scrutiny and potentially much tougher restrictions added to the existing consent decree (prompted by a 2011 deal) that will protect Comcast competitors such as Univision who are serving minority communities in particular,” said Falco.
Falco stopped short of asking the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, which are reviewing the deal to ensure it is legal, to block it outright.
On the call, Falco said a primary worry was that Comcast, with its range of movies, television shows and sports shows, would be reluctant to carry networks that it did not own, such as Univision.
In particular, he complained that Comcast balked at distributing Univision’s sports network, while others, including Time Warner Cable, did carry it.
Falco noted also that if the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal is approved, the new, larger Comcast would serve 91 percent of all Hispanic households and be the top distributor in 19 of the top 20 Hispanic markets.
Comcast said in response it “has had an extraordinary, long-standing 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.”
“This transaction will not lead to any reduction in competition or consumer choice in any market because Comcast and Time Warner Cable serve separate and distinct geographic areas,” the company’s statement added. “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.”
Also on Monday, Comcast announced a deal with Charter Communications Inc as part of Comcast’s efforts to win regulatory approval for its mega merger.
If finalized, that agreement would leave Comcast with less than 30 percent of the U.S. residential cable or satellite TV market, a step aimed at pleasing regulators. Charter would have about 6 percent of the pay-TV market, with an eventual shot at climbing to 9 percent. That deal is contingent on Comcast closing the Time Warner Cable acquisition.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny, Phil Berlowitz, Peter Cooney and Bernard Orr