Team swings Gates

Tech mogul joins televisa bid for Univision

Mexican media empire Televisa confirmed Friday afternoon that it had joined with a group of private equity firms to bid on top U.S. Hispanic net Univision and added that it has one more, so far silent, partner in its bid — Bill Gates.

Televisa said in a filing with U.S. regulators that Gates’ Cascade Investment was among those, including the Carlyle Group, Bain Capital Partners, the Blackstone Group and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., joining in its bid.

Univision, the biggest U.S. Hispanic media company, went on the block in February. English-language nets face declining auds, but Univision is in a growth market, with Latinos expected to represent nearly a quarter of the U.S. population by 2020.

While other bidders are expected, it will be hard to find deeper pockets — or a group more dedicated to winning the prize.

Televisa, as Univision’s pipeline of primetime content, is crucial for any bid.

Televisa prexy-CEO Emilio Azcarraga Jean, the third-generation scion of the TV, pay TV, radio and print Spanish-language titan, has long mulled how to retake the web launched as the first Spanish-language TV station in San Antonio, Texas, in 1961 by his grandfather.

The U.S. government forced Televisa to sell out in the mid-’80s, when foreign ownership of media assets was curtailed.

Gates, through investment firm Cascade Investment and his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bought a 7% stake in Televisa in July 2003 and now owns around $510 million in Televisa stock.

Carlyle, Bain, Blackstone and Kohlberg are high-powered firms experienced with leveraged buyouts; they sport advisers and board members whose names read like an alumni list of Republican administrations. The groups together manage more than $106 billion.

Televisa already owns nearly 10% of Univision, with an option on 11.4%, and it is expected to seek the maximum 25% stake a foreign company can hold in a U.S. broadcaster.

Sources close to the matter say Azcarraga Jean is seeking something closer to 100% creative control over the net.

Last year Azcarraga sparred with Univision owner A. Jerrold Perenchio and ankled the board after Ray Rodriguez was named president without Azcarraga’s input.

The spat spurred a lawsuit by Televisa that has snowballed into a claim before a Los Angeles court to end the webs’ long-term programming and licensing deal.

Even if other bidders emerged, they wouldn’t have the backing of Televisa. Major U.S. entertainment companies are unlikely to make a bid. While Disney and CBS have expressed interest in Univision in the past, a CBS purchase would force the company to shed stations to meet regulatory requirements, while the Mouse is busy integrating Pixar.

Univision’s stock has climbed nearly 40% since October, when rumors began swirling on Wall Street that Perenchio was looking to sell.

Along with two partners, Perenchio paid $550 million for Univision in 1992 and is hoping to net around $13.5 billion.

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