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Univision beset by media world turbulence as it plans IPO

Univision beset by media world turbulence as it plans IPO
Univision, which is owned by several private equity firms and Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, pictured, had been planning to raise about $1 billion through a partial offering of its shares. (Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images for Paul Frank Indu)

Univision Communications' owners were hoping that by mid-October, Wall Street would be cheering the company's public stock offering that was expected to be one of the year's biggest.

They weren't counting on a media stock meltdown, a retrenchment of the IPO market or a dust-up with Donald Trump.

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The landscape has changed dramatically since Univision registered its stock offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission in July. Company officials are set to decide in the next few weeks whether to push forward with the IPO — or wait for the turbulence to ease, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Wall Street in August began dumping media stocks over fears about long-term growth prospects of television companies amid an uptick in the number of consumers scaling back their pay-TV subscriptions. The uncertainty increased the risk that investors might pay less than the hoped-for price for Univision's shares — depressing the company's value.

Univision, which is owned by several private equity firms and Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, had been planning to raise about $1 billion through a partial offering of its shares. The owners have long insisted that the company is worth more than $20 billion.

"They still have a compelling offer to investors," said Xavier Gutierrez, chief investment officer for the Meruelo Group, which owns Spanish-language station KWHY-TV Channel 22, which competes with Univision's juggernaut KMEX-TV Channel 34 in Los Angeles. "Univision remains an incredible brand with incredible content."

But since late June, Univision has had to contend with brush fires on several fronts.

Univision severed its business ties with Trump after the Republican presidential front-runner referred to some Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and said others were bringing drugs and crime into the U.S. The company backed out of its commitment to broadcast the Miss U.S.A. pageant, which was then controlled by Trump.

The real estate tycoon promptly filed a $500-million lawsuit against Univision. A preliminary court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in New York on Trump's breach-of-contract lawsuit against Univision.

"Our lawsuit is going forward," said Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization. "I haven't heard anything about their IPO — maybe they are afraid of our lawsuit."

A spokeswoman for Univision declined to comment.

Tension between the two sides heated up in late August when Univision star anchor Jorge Ramos was ejected from a Trump news conference in Iowa, an incident that was replayed on cable news channels. A security official escorted Ramos from the room after the journalist interrupted Trump to demand the candidate defend his plan to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Trump told Ramos, "Go back to Univision."

Univision had wanted to go public this fall to take advantage of anticipation over political spending on TV and radio ads during next year's elections. Politicians are expected to spend heavily to court Latino voters, who could become pivotal in the election. There are more than 57 million Latinos in the U.S., making up 18% of the population.

A deluge of campaign dollars could add more than $100 million to Univision's top line in 2016, analysts say. The company might miss a timely marketing hook if it postpones the IPO beyond next spring because primary elections would be well underway.

But there are other issues dampening enthusiasm, including a nagging demographic trend that eventually could stunt the growth of Spanish-language media companies like Univision.

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Immigration from Latin America has slowed in recent years, and more Latinos are being born in the U.S.

More than two-thirds of Latinos in the U.S., a record 33.2 million people, speak English proficiently, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. That's a 15% increase over 2000, when 59% of Latinos in the U.S. were fluent in English — and a 30% increase over 1990 levels, according to the research.

An estimated 89% of U.S.-born Latinos speak English, which gives them vast choices when it comes to watching TV. Unlike their parents or grandparents, young Latinos are as likely to watch Fox, Bravo, HBO or videos on YouTube as they are to watch Univision or competitor Telemundo.

"Spanish-language media companies will have to contend with the head winds of this emerging trend," Gutierrez said.

Univision has invested in upstart cable channels Fusion and El Rey to diversify its offerings and appeal to young adults who primarily speak English. But both networks have lost money for Univision.

"This is one of the bigger challenges facing marketers," said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research for Pew Research Center in Washington. "How do you reach English-speaking Latinos who are aware of their identity, and celebrate it, but also consume

most of their media in English?"

Univision also might be delaying the IPO to wait for stronger earnings reports.

The company posted a net operating loss of nearly $178 million during the first six months of the year, which was partially because of management fees paid to its private equity owners.

This year isn't expected to be as robust as last year, when Univision generated $2.9 billion in revenue, including $120 million in advertising sales from its broadcast of the World Cup. During the first six months of 2015, revenue slipped 9% compared with the year-ago period.

Univision also has been struggling with huge debt ever since the leveraged buyout in 2007 when the Saban Capital Group, Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, TPG Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners bought the company for $13.7 billion.

Univision still has about $10.3 billion in debt on the books, according to its regulatory filings.

Univision's owners were not planning to unload their entire stake in the media company, but rather begin their gradual exit. One of the owners — Grupo Televisa of Mexico City, which provides Univision's hugely popular telenovelas — plans to increase its stake in Univision.

Last year, Saban tried to sell Univision to entertainment behemoths Time Warner Inc. or CBS Corp. But those talks collapsed when the companies separately balked at Univision's $20-billion price. The group then turned its attention to the IPO.

"It's a tricky time to go public," said Troy Hooper, senior reporter for the financial news service Mergermarket. "We are seeing a lot of volatility in the market, and that has caused some companies to pull back. Some bankers are advising their clients that they shouldn't go out until they have to."

In the third quarter, the IPO market declined 43% from the previous-year period with just 34 deals, according to Renaissance Capital. Last week, grocer Albertson's abandoned plans for an October stock offering.

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Univision has "to go out — even if they take a haircut on the price that they were looking for," said Sam Hamadeh, chief executive of research firm Privco. He also pointed out that Univision's private equity owners have held their stakes for nearly a decade — an unusually long time.

"The IPO should have strong investor interest," Hamadeh said. "Univision is a brand name company that people use, and most investors aren't looking 20 years out. The average IPO investor holds onto their stock for less than 12 months."

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