Surprise! Obama FCC Quietly Enables Univision's Foreign 'Bailout'

January 11th, 2017 8:00 AM

Much of our reporting on Univision's institutional biases centered around the fact that the network required certain regulatory relief that was likeliest to come in a Clinton administration. But it appears that the Obama administration has already provided some of that relief on the way out.

This paragraph is found deep into Adrián Carrasquillo's piece (Why President Trump Is "A Nightmare For Univision") on the post-election fallout at the Doral, Florida-based network:

And Telemundo pointed to its relationship with NBC News and MSNBC under Comcast as a plus as well, a fact repeatedly brought up by Univision employees who have been under the cloud of a long-drawn out IPO process and found out this week that Televisa will be allowed to grow its stake in the company from 25% to 49% by the FCC. NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed.

In addition to immigration certainty, we have long posited that Univision needed the FCC to expand the foreign ownership rule in order to allow Televisa to increase its stake in the beleaguered network. An IPO has been in the books for quite some time, but has faltered. Here's how we characterized the rule expansion 3 months ago

Well, there you have it. If Univision's IPO continues to stall indefinitely- an increasingly likely possibility as investors dig beyond the smoke and mirrors of the recent digital splurge, then Plan B is a little something I like to call the "Azcárraga Bailout", in which Televisa CEO Emilio Azcárraga acquires a large stake of the network. We detail why that could happen here

But this requires relaxing of the current rules, which don't allow foreign entities to purchase such large interests in domestic broadcast companies. All five seats on the FCC's board of commissioners are up during the upcoming presidential term (the first two are up in 2017), so Univision has much at stake here.

And so it appears that the Obama administration has decided to throw Univision yet another bone. These decisions are normally deferred to the next administration, but that would have left the network staring at a 2-1 Republican FCC with Donald Trump filling the remaining vacancies. 

That this vote on such a crucial rule change was scheduled so as to be buried towards the end of the transition and in the middle of the New Year's holiday indicates that it had little to no chance of passing after January 20th. 

In real terms, this means that Univision gets half a loaf for all its troubles, and Haim Saban is now on a glide path to cash out- while the network gains some breathing room as the IPO continues to develop (or not). It remains to be seen what effect this will have on actual news coverage. But we'll be watching.

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