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Spanish language showdown pushed

Univision, Televisa courtroom face-off delayed

Hispanic media titans Univision and Televisa, due to face-off in a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles today over a long-standing programming feud, have postponed the hearing to July 1.

Legal reps from both parties have been meeting behind the scenes to try to cobble an out-of-court settlement.

At stake is Univision’s lock on the primetime programming — mainly telenovelas — supplied by Mexican TV giant Televisa.

Trial is a thorn in the side of Univision’s owners, a consortium of private investors led by media mogul Haim Saban, which acquired the U.S. Spanish language TV company for $13.7 billion (including a debt of $1.4 billion) in 2006.

Televisa’s material breach of contract suit, filed in 2005 and boosted by subsequent filings, seeks to end the programming license agreement inked in 1992 with Univision’s previous owner A. Jerrold Perenchio. It’s not due to expire until 2017.

Televisa argues Univision failed to pay more than $100 million in royalties, altered content without permission and refused to give Televisa auditors’ access to financial records.

It also accuses Univision of deducting 15% agency commissions from advertising dues of some programs when no agencies were involved. “This trial will provide an interesting window to a different form of Hollywood accounting, not so unlike that of the motion picture business,” said Televisa lawyer Marshall Grossman of Bingham McCutchen, before the postponement had been announced.

“We are confident that the facts are on our side and that Univision will prevail at trial once we present our case,” said a Univision spokesperson.

Univision is heavily dependent on Televisa programming. Results from in-house programming efforts such as a “Desperate Housewives” remake and Jennifer Lopez-produced skein “Como ama una mujer” have been mixed at best.

Televisa receives 67% of its export revenue from Univision and would need to replace the deal if it succeeds in ending the licensing agreement, according to Miami-based Spanish-language TV consultant Julio Rumbaut.

Televisa would be free to offer its content to other bidders including NBC U-owned Telemundo, which has been chipping away at Univision’s lead in ratings and audience shares. Telemundo and Televisa already have a 10-year programming and licensing pact, inked in March.

Televisa could also try to partner with another U.S. company to form its own TV web.

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