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Univision properties go dark to Charter subs in carriage dispute

The long-simmering carriage and legal battle between Univision Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. finally boiled over, with programming from the Spanish-language media giant going dark to the cable operator's subscribers shortly after midnight ET on Jan. 31.

After being unable to come to terms, Univision pulled the signals from Charter systems for Univision (US)- and UniMás (US)-owned stations, as well as cable networks Galavision (US) and Univision Deportes (US), in key markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Texas, where the programmer said Charter is its largest distributor.

The blackout, which had been forestalled through a contract extension that concluded at month's end, also encompasses the Time Warner Cable Inc. and Bright House Networks LLC systems that Charter acquired in May 2016.

Univision on Jan. 27 warned Charter subscribers that they could lose access to its networks and stations stemming from a negotiations impasse, by running messaging across its platforms including on-air crawls on its networks and on the home page of its website.

That became a reality early Feb. 1, with Univision issuing a statement: "Charter Communications has continually rejected all of UCI's repeated, good-faith efforts to reach an agreement. As a result, Charter has decided to deny its subscribers continued access to Hispanic America's most popular entertainment and sports, and most trusted news content. 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. Despite this huge customer outcry, Charter still refuses to value Univision's content and the audience we serve."

Univision noted that Charter's acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks made it the second-largest cable and broadband company in the U.S., and that given its size, it 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."

The programmer said it was ready to "resume good faith negotiations immediately and hope Charter will do what is right for its Hispanic customers."

The carriage dispute dates back to July 2016, when Univision filed a lawsuit against Charter alleging that it did not honor its contractual commitments in the wake of a change in corporate ownership following its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in May 2016. Univision said its carriage deal with legacy Time Warner Cable was scheduled to run through June 2022 before the merger, while Charter's deal ended on June 30, 2016.

In the legal action, which remains active, Univision contends Charter delayed negotiations and that the MSO insists the programmer's contract with Time Warner Cable is applicable to both cable systems.

In the early hours of Feb. 1, Charter responded to the blackout by again saying: "We have a contract with Univision and we expect them to honor it."