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AT&T, Univision Trade Heated Comments But No Negotiations as U-Verse Blackout Continues

UPDATE: Univision has agreed to restore its signals to U-Verse customers for the duration of the March 9 Democratic presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that Univision is hosting with the Washington Post. The debate is set to air in Spanish on Univision with a simulcast on CNN and Fusion. “This is the right thing to do for our Spanish-language customers as we continue working toward an agreement with Univision,” AT&T said in a statement.

PREVIOUSLY: AT&T and Univision are exchanging more heated words but have yet to return to the negotiating table as the blackout of Univision channels on the U-Verse system heads into its fourth day.

Univision said Monday it was ready to engage in new negotiations with U-Verse. AT&T on Sunday blasted the Spanish-language media giant for what it deemed “despicable allegations” in Univision’s previous comment that AT&T was being discriminatory by what it characterized as AT&T’s refusal to pay carriage fees to Univision commensurate with what it pays to carry top English-language stations.

The flare-up between AT&T and Univision underscores the tension in the marketplace at present between programmers and MVPDs.

At midnight ET on Friday, 29 Univision-owned stations and numerous other channels went dark on U-Verse. Univision had given AT&T a weeklong extension from the end of the previous contract in an effort to hammer out a deal. The dispute does not affect Univision carriage on AT&T’s DirecTV. U-verse reaches about 5.9 million households.

“It’s unfortunate the owners of Univision not only have blocked U-Verse customers from seeing their channels, but also have stooped to despicable allegations in an effort to extort an outrageous price increase — an increase which ultimately will come at the expense of all our customers, including Univision viewers,” Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior exec VP of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement issued Sunday. “Spanish-language channels are important to us and our customers. AT&T’s focus is to offer a wide range of content for our Hispanic viewers, while keeping cost increases, and bills, down as much as possible. If Univision really cares about their audiences, they will immediately restore their channels to U-Verse homes while we figure this out.”

On Monday, Univision reiterated its assertion that the fee dispute had larger cultural implications. The company cited the high viewership of its stations in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and other key Hispanic markets.

“We are always proud to stand with the Hispanic community, regardless of the costs to Univision. For us, it is about standing up for the future of multicultural media and the opportunity for it to thrive in a multiplatform marketplace,” said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Univision’s exec VP of government relations and public policy. “In many of the markets U-Verse serves, Univision stations are ranked number one, regardless of language. If, as the most popular Spanish-language broadcaster, we do not take a stand and require the distributors treat us on par with English-language broadcasters, what does that mean for the minority and independent creators that come after us?”

Herrera-Flanigan continued: “We encourage AT&T to continue its tradition of valuing the Hispanic community by negotiating reasonably and respectfully towards a fair agreement. We continue to make ourselves available to reach a resolution and restore Univision’s family of Spanish-language and multicultural content to U-Verse customers.”

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