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Charter subs could lose access to Univision programming in carriage battle

A carriage dispute dating from summer 2016 may spill over and result in Univision Communications Inc. programming going dark to Charter Communications Inc. subscribers.

The Spanish-language media giant on Jan. 27 warned Charter customers that they "may lose access to Univision's networks and stations" stemming from an "unfortunate impasse" in negotiations.

A Univision spokeswoman said the company began running messaging across its platforms, including on-air crawls on its networks, and a tab on the home page of its website, to alert the multiple-system operator's subscribers about the possibility of a disconnect.

At risk are networks and 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.

"This is a perfect example of how a behemoth cable company like Charter uses its excessive market power to harm content companies and the millions of subscribers who rely on Univision and its suite of networks for vital news and information in language," Univision said Jan. 27.

"Despite Univision's many attempts to resolve the dispute by offering good-faith settlement solutions, Charter has rejected all of Univision's efforts. Given this unfortunate impasse, Univision has no choice but to inform Charter's customers that they may lose access to Univision's networks and stations. Univision is committed to continuing to fight for the dignity and value of our community in the marketplace and the important role we play in providing a voice for Hispanic America during these uncertain times."

Charter responded to Univision's move with its own statement: "We have a contract with Univision and expect them to honor it."

The carriage contretemps between the parties stretch back to last July 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 Inc. 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 that the programmer's contract with Time Warner Cable is applicable to both cable systems.

In addition to pushing for Univision to accept a carriage rate below market value, Univision avers that the newly merged company is violating a clause in Charter's agreement with Univision that specified how the contract was to be handled in the event of an acquisition.

"If Charter or any of its affiliated companies acquired the distribution systems of another distributor, the purchased distributor would remain subject to the operative agreement between Univision and that other distributor, but only until the end of the calendar year in which the acquisition occurred," according to the court filing.

As such, Univision maintains that the legacy Charter systems were subject to the programmer's now-expired agreement, while the legacy Time Warner Cable systems should have been subject to Univision's pact with Time Warner Cable, but only until the end of 2016.

The stations and cable networks have remained on the MSO's systems thus far in 2017 through an extension.

The flare-up follows renewals for both sides. Charter recently came to terms with NBCUniversal Media LLC on a deal encompassing stations owned by NBC and Univision rival Telemundo (US), cable networks, including USA (US), Bravo (US), CNBC (US), MSNBC (US) and NBCSN (US), and a quartet of regional sports networks within the MSO's footprint. The parties had faced contract expiration at midnight on Jan. 1, but all of the properties remained on Charter systems through an extension forged on Dec. 31, 2016.

For its part, Univision reached a new pact with NBCU-owner Comcast Corp. for Univision and UniMas stations and Galavision on Dec. 31, 2016, ahead of their contract's expiration later that day.