Telenovelas in Court: Univision and Televisa Duke It Over Online Retrans Rights

imageIf the Univision vs Televisa fight is at least half as interesting as the telenovelas they are known for, we are in for a treat: the two Hispanic media entities are fighting on whose holds the U.S. rights to retransmit the Televisa-produced shows online. The current version of this lawsuit, being heard starting today in federal court in Los Angeles, is an offshoot of the bigger fight the two frienemies have been sparring over, well, since when they signed the deal back in 1992. Mexico’s largest media company, Grupo Televisa, has been supplying the very popular telenovelas to U.S. based Unvision since then, and the two have fought over the exclusive rights to audiences in U.S. as new distribution technologies (including satellite) came in. And now, after a royalties settlement the two companies reached in Jan this year, the argument has moved over to the online side. Univision contends that the original agreement cover rights to online rebroadcast of the full shows, while Televisa argues that it doesn’t.

LAT has a good background on the history and current online dispute. At stake is possibly the future of the already-troubled Univision, now owned by PE firms. If Televisa could get the rights to online transmission directly through its website (as it does in Mexico already), that means Hispanic users interested could technically get it for free, assuming Televisa goes the ad-supported route. In Mexico, it has chosen to the the paid route for the online shows. Fitch estimates that Televisa-supplied shows make up for more than 35 percent of Univision’s TV revenues.

As for the trial that restarted today, it is expected to conclude by Friday, but lawyers from both sides do not expect a decision immediately. Interestingly, Univison hired away former AOL (NYSE: TWX) EVP Kevin Conroy to head its interactive efforts earlier this year, and if it does get a ruling in its favor, expect some major online video moves from the company in that area. As of Q1 this year, only contributes about 2 percent of the company’s overall net revenues, at about $7.5 million.

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