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Univision Posts Solid Q1 Gains, Raises Concerns About Aereo, Comcast-TW Cable

Univision Communications unveiled strong first-quarter results Monday, fueled by growth at its UniMas broadcast network and other offshoot channels.

Univision’s net revenue increased 10.5% to $621.1 million for the first quarter ended March 31 compared to $562.0 million for the same time frame in 2013. Adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization rose 12.1% to $251.4 million for the first quarter compared to $224.2 million for the same period the year prior.

In a conference call with analysts, Univision execs cited growing concerns over the pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and the legality of online TV content streaming service Aereo. Univision CEO Randy Falco pointed out that the Comcast-TW Cable merger would be especially bad for Hispanic auds and called for greater scrutiny and tougher restrictions on the pending pact.

According to Falco, Univision finished third in the February sweeps after ABC and CBS, and saw significant year-over-year audience growth at its sister network UniMas. Sports channel Univision Deportes held its position as the fastest-growing cable network among Adults 18-49 while Univision’s digital platforms reported a 23% jump in impressions.

With regards to its English-language networks El Rey and Fusion, Falco said they were still too new to be formally rated but were finding an audience in this “cluttered landscape,” especially El Rey’s “From Dusk to Dawn” skein.

Per Falco, the enlarged Comcast would serve markets with 91% of all Hispanic households and be the top pay distrib in 19 of the leading 20 Hispanic markets, giving it “staggering influence” over Hispanic consumers. He pointed out that Comcast did not carry Univision Deportes, despite its leading status, and despite the fact that all other top pay distribs carried it. “Either Comcast doesn’t understand that soccer is a passion point for Hispanics or they don’t support competitors who have competing services,” he said. “My fear is that the latter is the case.”

Comcast responded to Falco’s assertion with a lengthy statement emphasizing that its cable service offers more than 60 networks serving the Hispanic aud in English and Spanish.

“We have a proven track record with Hispanic customers offering the greatest programming choices in linear, digital, and on-demand platforms. New independent networks (El Rey and Baby First Americas), the Xfinity Latino Entertainment Channel – the first of its kind interactive channel, and the celebrated Xfinity Freeview Latino event, are a few examples to demonstrate how Hispanic inclusion extends beyond our robust procurement, workforce, and community investment practices,” Comcast spokesman John Demming said.

“This transaction will not lead to any reduction in competition or consumer choice in any market because Comcast and Time Warner Cable serve separate and distinct geographic areas – we don’t compete for customers anywhere. We will not have undue power in negotiating with programming networks, and we have a great record of working with programmers from the largest to the smallest,” Demming said.

Regarding Aereo, he views it as an illegal service and was hopeful that the Supreme Court would rule in the broadcasters’ favor. A decision is expected in the summer; the major TV broadcasters and Aereo have been battling in the courts since the latter started up two years ago.

Falco also announced the start of a 100-day countdown before the launch of the soccer World Cup in Brazil with special programming dedicated the event.

Univision expects to break even on its World Cup coverage over the course of 2014 with revenue streaming in during the second and third quarters.

Separately, Univision announced the appointment of former TV Guide Network exec Friday Abernethy to senior VP of content distribution for Univision Communications, based in New York.

In her newly created position, Abernethy will oversee Univision’s distribution relationships cable, satellite and telecommunications operators. Her responsibilities include distribution of the company’s linear networks, including Univision and UniMas, and cable networks Galavision, Univision Deportes and El Rey. She will also handle UCI’s digital offerings and UVideos.

Prior to joining Univision, Abernethy served as exec vice president of distribution sales and marketing for TV Guide Network.

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