Cable giant Comcast Corp. has agreed to add Spanish-language sports channel Univision Deportes to its programming lineup.
The deal comes amid strife between the two companies, heightened with Comcast’s proposed $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. Univision Chief Executive Randy Falco has openly criticized the merger, saying it could stifle competition and hurt programmers.
Falco this year noted that his company’s fast-growing Univision Deportes sports channel was carried by most major distributors — except Comcast.
The Philadelphia cable company owns NBC, NBC Sports and Spanish-language network Telemundo, which directly competes with Univison’s sports and entertainment networks.
This week’s breakthrough came after more than a year of negotiations, and four months after Falco publicly aired his concerns about the proposed merger.
Beginning next month, Comcast will include Univision Deportes in packages offered to about 12 million Comcast subscribers.
A Comcast spokesman downplayed the timing of the Univision Deportes deal. He said the company only recently came to terms on a deal deemed to be in the best interest of its subscribers.
“Univision Deportes Network offers terrific programming and will be a great addition to our growing lineup of networks for Hispanic customers,” Marcien Jenckes, a Comcast executive vice president, said in a company statement. “Comcast is already the nation’s largest provider of Latino packages.”
Juan Carlos Rodriguez, Univision’s sports president, said: “We are pleased to expand the reach of Univision Deportes Network and our popular sports content through this deal with Comcast.”
If Comcast succeeds in its Time Warner Cable takeover, it would become the dominant provider in the nation’s largest markets — where more than three-quarters of U.S. Latinos live.
Comcast would dominate in diverse markets such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and much of Northern California.
The deal would make it an even bigger powerhouse in television distribution, with nearly 30 million pay-TV customers and about 29 million high-speed Internet subscribers.
Several companies, including Netflix and Dish Network, have raised concerns with the federal government about Comcast’s increasing heft. Some programmers, including Univision, have tried to leverage Comcast’s pending application before the Federal Communications Commission to extract more favorable terms in their business dealings with Comcast.
Late last month, 15 members of the California Assembly sent a letter to Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts and Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Rob Marcus, asking them to consider broader distribution for independent Spanish-language networks, including Estrella TV.
The Burbank network, owned by Liberman Broadcasting, is available in 7.8 million Latino homes, representing just a fraction of the country.
“Despite distribution challenges, Estrella TV has grown to become the fourth largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S.,” the letter signed by the lawmakers said. “Yet Estrella TV has been thwarted in their efforts to gain distribution in this increasingly consolidated media environment.”
Comcast carries Estrella TV in some markets -- but its supporters would like Comcast to offer the network more widely.
Blima Tuller, chief financial officer of Liberman Broadcasting, said that Comcast’s increased market share would give it tremendous influence over programming choices for Spanish-speaking viewers.
The company could “shut out independent and minority broadcasters that lack the leverage and power of multiple networks, preventing TV viewers from being able to watch the programming they would like to see,” she said.