MIAMI — Thousands of miles away in Russia, some of the most bruising battles in the world are being waged on a finely mowed pitch, as nations wage war against nations in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The media company that lost the U.S. Spanish-language broadcast rights to Telemundo now finds itself in its own firefight, a swiftly escalating struggle that has already resulted in a war of words and exchanges full of accusations, finger-pointing and braggadocio.
Univision‘s networks have been dropped from DISH Network, by law, in the absence of a new retransmission fee agreement. This includes affiliates not owned by Univision.
It looks like a resolution and new deal may not be reached for a long time.
Signs of a prolonged struggle first emerged June 25, when difficulty to reach a new retransmission fee agreement led Univision to warn viewers that tune to its networks via DBS provider DISH and its Sling TV “skinny bundle” that its signals could go dark soon.
On Wednesday, Univision introduced a crawl screen further alerting viewers on DISH to the possible signal silence.
By Friday night (6/29), the legal team and PR professionals at Univision and DISH were each respectfully drafting press releases, carefully worded as to state their case to consumers via the media.
At 9:23pm Eastern Friday, DISH Corporate Communications representative John W. Hall said via e-mail, “Today, DISH announced that negotiations with Univision have reached an apparent impasse.”
Then, the opening punch in a lucha libre fight began, with Hall throwing the first punch.
“Even with ratings down approximately 30%, Univision has threatened to block DISH customers to force a price increase of roughly 75% over current rates,” he said — without noting what Univision’s current rates actually are in comparison to other networks of its breadth and depth.
DISH then slammed Univision for “walking away” from the negotiation table and for creating the impasse. It called Univision’s demands “untenable.”
“DISH is preparing for Univision to block DISH customers from its channels,” it cried out.
To bolster its argument, DISH turned to Alfredo Rodríguez Diaz-Marta, VP of DishLATINO and Sling Latino. He said, “Univision is calling for price hikes designed to impact the Latino market we have served for more than 20 years. We are disappointed and saddened by Univision’s threats to block our customers from Univision news and entertainment content, especially during such challenging times.”
The phrase “challenging times” is a punch to the gut from DISH at Univision, which remains the most-watched Spanish-language television network in the U.S. among total households but now lags Telemundo in the key adults 18-49 demographic in prime-time.
DISH had its own review of Univision’s viewership declines. It said, “Ratings for its flagship Univision channel have declined by nearly 40% since 2012. These trends are only expected to continue.” It used Telemundo’s securing of Spanish-language World Cup telecasts through 2026 as a prime catalyst for this decline.
Rodríguez Diaz-Marta also assailed Univision for waiting “weeks” to counter DISH’s previous proposal and did not respond to DISH’s latest offer.
RBR+TVBR asked Univision for a response in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Just after 6am, a company spokesperson based in New York provided a lengthy response via e-mail.
“DISH continues its efforts to pay Univision only a fraction of what it pays our English-language peers,” Univision noted, without offering a hint as to what Univision gets from DISH compared to its Hispanic market competitors.
Univision then labeled DISH’s latest offer “an insult to our viewers, who depend on us for the news and information that we provide like no other.”
Then, a jab to the left: “DISH is just going through the motions; it is providing hollow offers that hardly represent true negotiations.”
Univision’s punches then landed DISH square in the jaw.
“We remain ready and willing to negotiate with DISH, but we will not roll over and let them continue to devalue the programming our already underrepresented community relies on,” Univision said. “Given the fact that our networks perform extremely well on their service, the question becomes: ‘Why doesn’t DISH treat Univision fairly?'”
Univision then downplayed its ratings declines.
“With a growing number of platforms and ways to watch programming, traditional ratings don’t tell the full story,” it claimed. “The old industry standard of capturing viewers simply cannot alone reflect a network’s popularity or cultural relevance today.”
That said, Univision declared that DISH is well aware that its networks are especially important to consumers. Citing Nielsen adults 18-49 prime-time ratings for calendar year 2017 (again, a tactic designed to bolster Univision’s argument as it is falling behind Telemundo in the 2017-2018 broadcast season and in recent weekly Nielsen ratings periods), Univision said it is the No. 3 most-watched channel in any language on the DISH Network. Further, the Univision Deportes Network is the No. 2 most-watched sports network on DISH regardless of language, Univision claims from its review of specific Nielsen data by time and audience demo.
This narrow view of Nielsen ratings also led Univision to claim that it is responsible for 60% of the Spanish-language viewership on DishLATINO.
Considering that Univision’s network are comprised of the widely available Univision and UniMás broadcast TV networks and the Galavisión cable network, this is likely not disputable.
What is disputable is whether or not the value the three networks brings DISH is on par with ABC, FOX, CBS or NBCUniversal.
Ninety minutes later, a general statement to the media was dispatched by Univision’s New York offices, confirming that the company “has not left the table and is prepared to continue negotiating when DISH shows that it is serious about paying fair value for our services.”
Finally, at 7pm Eastern on Saturday, the inevitable occurred: Univision and UniMás owned-and-operated stations and the Galavisión network were blocked to DISH Network viewers, by law, as a new retransmission fee agreement was not reached. RBR+TVBR has learned that that the blackout also includes non-Univision owned affiliates, including those owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Entravision.
Sinclair’s Univision-affiliated stations are comprised of stations in Seattle, Yakima, and Pasco (Tri-Cities), Wash.; Portland, Ore.; and in Chico-Redding and Eureka-Arcata, Calif.
Univision Seattle tells RBR+TVBR that it is telling advertisers and viewers Sinclair-owned KUNS-51 remains viewable over the air, confirming that DISH’s retrans agreement with Univision Communications encompasses even affiliate stations not owned by Univision.
A person close to the matter who requested anonymity said that when Univision Communications negotiates deals, it represents and negotiates on behalf of its affiliates. “This arrangement is different from most other broadcast groups, who only negotiate on behalf of their owned-and-operated stations,” the individual said.
DISH broke the news, reiterating its earlier statements while adding new accusations to fan the flames between it and Univision.
Univision also sells its top two networks direct to consumers through a streaming product called Univision Now. That product is available for $7.99 per month, yet the programmer is asking DishLATINO and Sling Latino subscribers to pay almost double for the same content.
To ensure customers have additional Spanish-language entertainment options during this time, DishLATINO is making news and entertainment channels available at no extra cost. These options include Multimedios (now available on channels 271, 272, 830 and 831), Mexicanal (now available on channels 273 and 833), and additional free movies on channel 828. Sling TV is providing customers who have the the Best of Spanish TV service or Best of Spanish TV Extra a free preview of the Mexico Regional Service.
“Given current events impacting the Hispanic community, we call on Univision to return its signal to DISH, DishLATINO and Sling TV customers as soon as possible. This is not the time to be making outrageous demands to make up for bad business decisions, or, as many have suggested, better position themselves for a sale,” said Rodríguez Diaz-Marta.
DISH also brought up the fact that Univision “sells” its top two networks direct to consumers through the Univision NOW streaming product, available for $7.99 per month.
This led DISH to slam Univision for asking DishLATINO and Sling Latino subscribers “to pay almost double for the same content.”
Commenting via e-mail to RBR+TVBR, a Univision spokesperson said, “Sure, of course some consumers can opt for Univision NOW (although cable networks like Galavision aren’t on Univision Now). But, our own OTT offerings shouldn’t excuse DISH for punishing current subscribers who would lose access to content and packages they’re already paying for. DISH is asking customers to pay extra for something they were previously getting as part of their DISH subscription, which is like an added tax on Spanish-speaking customers. Many television programmers have OTT offerings – which begs the question: Are they focusing on Univision’s OTT services because the programming is primarily Spanish-language?”
Univision then criticized the “lack of options in Spanish-language programming bundles” on the “skinny bundle” Sling service.
Telemundo is also absent from Sling TV.
BLACKOUTS AND BLAME
As DISH sees it, Univision “has a history of resorting to blackouts to gain leverage in negotiations.”
It says, “In the last two years, they have blacked out millions of viewers, including customers of AT&T, Charter and Verizon (in a takedown lasting over a month).”
Univision’s negotiations with Charter Communications’ Spectrum service were particularly nasty, resulting in courtroom decision-making and legal agreements to forge a new deal in 2017.
After more than a month of negotiations that left Hispanic Verizon Fios customers in the dark, the MVPD in November 2017 agreed to a new retransmission fee agreement with Univision Communications.
AT&T’s U-Verse dropped Univision networks in spring 2016 due to a retrans fee impasse.
While Univision is the party that first brought the negotiation breakdown to the press, both Univision and DISH now have interested third-parties adding to the vocabulary-fueled combat.
“Univision is holding its programming for ransom in a naked ploy to extract higher fees from consumers,” said American Television Alliance (ATVA) spokesman Trent Duffy. “Univision’s plans to drastically increase the rates they charge customers will only result in higher bills for people in their communities. This is nothing but an attempted money grab by Univision Communications executives.”
The ATVA is a voice in Washington for the cable television industry and DBS providers such as DISH and AT&T-owned DirecTV.
“Univision is solely responsible for this blackout, and they alone have the power to restore their signal and end this blackout immediately,” Duffy believes; DISH and Univision are equally responsible.
“Univision, as the owner of the signal, can restore its programming to DISH customers at any time, even while negotiations continue,” he concluded, without noting that Univision has the right to a deal with terms it finds amenable.
The ATVA then went on to recap how “broadcasters shattered the record for the most TV blackouts” in a single calendar year in 2017, putting the blame squarely on broadcast TV companies.
Dish Network Chairman and co-founder Charlie Ergen‘s net worth is $13.4 billion. He earned $2.4 million in total compensation in 2017, according to Salary.com.
CEO W. Erik Carlson, who assumed that role from Ergen in December 2017, made $1,524,173 in total compensation in 2017. Of this total $519,231 was received as a salary, $337,500 was received as a bonus, $654,033 was received in stock options, $6,389 was awarded as stock and $7,020 came from other types of compensation.
Just after 11am Monday, with rival Telemundo announcing that it has acquired the rights to the popular Copa América soccer tournament, Univision offered another statement that confirmed its channels are off of DISH Network “indefinitely.”
Univision also revealed that the removal of the channels “followed DISH’s rejection of an offer from Univision that would have extended the parties’ existing contract to allow renewal negotiations to continue without interrupting viewers’ access to Univision content.”
This information was not previously disclosed, nor did it bear mention by DISH.
It was also confirmed that, from Sling TV, the El Rey Network, TLNovelas and Foro TV — niche offerings from Univision Communications — were blacked out.
Univision’s EVP of Goverment and Corporate Affairs, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, said, “This blackout was unnecessary, and DISH’s refusal to consider a short-term extension is unacceptable. We offered an extension to ensure negotiations did not interfere with our service of the Hispanic communities that rely on critical news from Univision. DISH apparently did not share our concern and chose not to put its Hispanic customers first.”
Herrera-Flanigan also put on her boxing gloves by pointing to DISH’s “well-documented history” of broadcast blackouts. “Since 2010, DISH customers have lost access to broadcast programming 68 times, considerably more than any other TV distributor in the U.S. during that time period,” she said.
The war of words will likely continue as Hispanic DISH subscribers get shut out of valued programming. It’s a lucha libre match Latinos would rather not have seen come to fruition.