Univision and Televisa back in court


When Univision and Televisa settled their programming rights dispute in January, guaranteeing Univision exclusive US broadcast rights to Televisa programming through 2017, one issue was left hanging – ownership of the US Internet rights to Televisa programming. A federal judge began hearing that case yesterday in Los Angeles.

Mexico’s Televisa has not yet tried to take its programming direct to US Spanish-speaking viewers via the Internet. If you go to the Televisa website from a US Internet service provider you will be blocked from streaming the popular novelas, which air in Mexico long before Univision broadcasts them in the US. Indeed, they still do well in the ratings for Univision even in border areas where Americans could have watched the shows when they aired on Televisa stations whose signals could be received from across the border.

The case to be decided by Judge Philip Gutierrez, who will rule without a jury, is all about content ownership in a changing media environment. Does Univision’s exclusive right to broadcast Televisa programming in the United States prevent Televisa or anyone else from delivering it via a different platform? As you would expect, Univision says it does – Televisa says the license is limited to broadcasting and does not cover new media outlets, such as the Internet.

Former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio, who is ill, began the testimony in the case via a videotaped deposition. He told the court that the contract he signed with Televisa in 1992 did not give the Mexican broadcaster US Internet rights.

Televisa CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean has long sought to have direct access to US audiences to expand his broadcast empire. His wife and children are US citizens and he sought unsuccessfully, in a partnership with Bill Gates, to buy Univision when it was auctioned in 2006. While Internet video is still a developing business, it could be an entrée into the US market without having to acquire stations or find affiliates for a network.

Azcarraga Jean is expected to testify in the LA trial. The judge is expected to rule before the summer is out.

[Note: The original story has been corrected. In the 3rd paragraph, the revised story clarifies that Univision does not claim that it has US Internet rights to the programming, but that its exclusive broadcast deal blocks anyone else from delivering the same programming on other platforms in the US. Also, in the 4th paragraph, Perenchio’s testimony was recorded, not a live teleconference.]