By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
Univision, UniMás, and Galavisión will remain on Charter Communications‘ Spectrum systems nationwide past Feb. 10.
Sources tell RBR + TVBR that an injunction hearing set for Thursday (2/9) regarding Univision’s legal dispute with Charter over retransmission fees will now be held later this month.
This means the media company’s stations will continue to air on Charter Spectrum systems until the hearing’s conclusion, at which point a permanent solution will be offered by a judge.
The Univision, UniMás and Galavisión stations had originally been allowed to air on Spectrum’s lineup through Feb. 9, with Charter Spectrum required to post a bond covering what Univision says is “the actual market value” of its programming. This payment arrangement will continue.
On Feb. 2, a temporary restraining order granted to Charter by the Supreme Court For The State of New York allowed for the return of Univision programming.
Charter was swift in issuing a statement stating that Univision Communications stations would no longer be blacked out on its Spectrum systems, which include the major Univision markets of Los Angeles and New York.
However, Univision quickly followed up with its own update on its suit against Charter, explaining, “A judge who was temporarily assigned to our case today said that she planned to issue an order that Univision’s networks and stations be restored on Charter Spectrum for seven days.”
Thus, the order was set to last until Thursday, Feb. 9, when the judge permanently assigned to the litigation was due back in court, a Univision spokesperson explained. While not confirmed, it is believed that the judge could not return to court as expected.
Univision has said that it “remains ready and willing to meet at any time with Charter Spectrum to engage in comprehensive, good-faith negotiations for the long-term carriage of our stations and networks. To date, Charter Spectrum has steadfastly refused to engage in such negotiations.”
The TRO from the judge is the latest chapter in a dramatic telenovela that’s come to fruition over the last week, involving a Hispanic media giant in the role of David and a mighty multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) being painted as a Goliath.
On Midnight on Feb. 1, Doral, Fla.-based Univision Communications’ Univision and UniMás broadcast networks and its pay-TV Galavisión network went dark on Spectrum across the nation, leaving subscribers in New York and Los Angeles without a key source of Spanish-language programming.
Charter had been relatively mum on the matter, which involves retransmission fees that Univision receives for allowing an MVPD to carry its stations.
“We have a contract with Univision and expect them to honor it,” a Charter spokesperson said in a boilerplate statement provided to all media.
However, Charter was quite clear in its stance on the matter Wednesday when it posted the following message in place of the regular programming on Univision KMEX-34 and UniMás KFTR-46 on its Southern California cable systems:
“Univision communications has withdrawn this channel from our lineup, although we have a multi-year contract in force with them,” the message reads, in Spanish.
“Univision is demanding an exaggerated increase in its rates, which is unfair for our clients. We are disappointed with their decision to remove their channels and thank you for your patience while we work to resolve this problem.”
RBR + TVBR has confirmed that a similar message appeared in place of WXTV-41 programming on Spectrum systems in New York City and in the lower Hudson Valley.
Univision has been vociferous in its efforts to raise the ire of Hispanics who consume Spanish-language media, seeking them to rise up and protest what the company believes are its “repeated, good-faith efforts to reach an agreement,” which Charter has “continually rejected.”
Univision also characterized the blackout of its stations as a move made by Charter, saying it “has decided to deny its subscribers continued access to Hispanic America’s most popular entertainment and sports, and most trusted news content.”
Updates on failed negotiations between Charter and Univision first surfaced on Jan. 28, some seven months after Univision Communications sued Charter Communications in a dispute over programming fees.
The lawsuit, filed in July 2016, came after Charter acquired Time Warner Cable, becoming the second-largest cable company in the nation. At the center of the issue is which retransmission fee agreement survives Charter’s purchase of TWC. Charter believes its contract with Univision is the surviving legally binding agreement; Univision says its Time Warner Cable deal is controlling per its merger agreement with Charter.
While the difference in payments to Univision has not been disclosed by the company, it is believed to be sizable — big enough for the company to sue Charter and bring its fight to the public via a blackout that has generated much attention from viewers.
RBR + TVBR‘s Jan. 28 coverage of the dispute resulted in a surge of visits to RBR.com, with nearly 11 times the normal amount of website traffic seen as anxious viewers attempt to learn as much as possible about Univision’s battle with Charter.
The coverage seems to have boosted the response from Charter customers.
“Over the past few days, Charter’s subscribers have demonstrated an overwhelming level of support for Univision’s content through an outpouring of calls to Charter,” Univision said in prepared comments, adding that despite the customer outcry, “Charter still refuses to value Univision’s content and the audience we serve.”
That audience includes individuals that may not consume English-language programming, and Univision played up this point in its defense.
“Charter has an obligation to its customers to provide them with access to content that is in-language and in-culture, which is vitally important during these politically volatile times,” Univision said. “This is part of a continuing fight against mega mergers to ensure that there are diverse voices and opportunities for minorities in the media marketplace. Univision’s top priority remains steadfast: providing critical news and information to empower and serve the Hispanic community. We are ready to resume good faith negotiations immediately and hope Charter will do what is right for its Hispanic customers.”