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Media Heavyweight Univision Sells for $13 Billion

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Univision Communications, or Univision, this country's largest Spanish language media company has been sold. A group led by media mogul Heim Saban put together the winning bid worth roughly $13 billion.

But as NPR's Felix Contreras reports, who didn't win is almost as important as who did.

FELIX CONTRERAS reporting:

The $13 billion Univision price tag reflects the potential of the Spanish language media market during a period when general market media companies have seen very little if any growth. The network's World Cup coverage is breaking Spanish language viewing records and Univision is now the country's fifth largest television network.

The key to that success has been the tele-novellas, the high drama Spanish language soap operas. Las novellas, as they are known in homes across the country, are part of a complex relationship that overshadowed the auction and sale of the network.

Mr. LUCA BENTIVOGLIO (Latino Public Broadcasting): The success of Univision is based on the television tele-novellas, there's no doubt about that.

CONTRERAS: Luca Bentivoglio, the executive director of Latino Public Broadcasting, is referring to the Mexican media company Groupo Televisa. Televisa supplies the bulk of Univision's programming and owns 11 percent of the network, and Televisa headed a group of investors that also submitted a bid late last week.

Televisa's bid was slightly lower, but Bentavolio says there were other factors that helped the Saban group get the upper hand in the bidding war. Several of Televisa's investors backed out last week. Univision and Televisa have sued each other over royalties for the Televisa programming, but he says the most important reason may be Televisa's status as a foreign owned company.

Mr. BENTIVOGLIO: Selling it to the Saban group, it makes it easier for the FTC and all the approvals that need to be taking place to go smoothly because it's an American, you know, it's an American company with American investors. There's no regulatory problems there in terms of foreign ownership.

CONTRERAS: But there are a few hurdles for the new owners. In the coming months the FCC and the Department of Justice will review the deal. They will be looking at whether or not Univision has a monopoly over Spanish language radio and TV that shuts out smaller companies.

When Univision bought the country's largest Spanish language radio group in 2003, two of the five FCC commissioners voted against the merger citing too much influence and control.

Univision proudly points out it reaches 90 percent of all Latino households in the country through three television networks, radio stations, an internet site and two record labels. The new owners may now have to justify the company's success over the last 15 years.

Felix Contreras, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.