Univision scraps IPO, leaving billionaires without exit plan

Univision considered and rejected a $13 billion plus merger offer from Discovery Communications Inc. last year. Photo: iStockphoto

Univision considered and rejected a $13 billion plus merger offer from Discovery Communications Inc. last year. Photo: iStockphoto

New York: Univision Holdings Inc. scrapped plans for an initial public offering (IPO), leaving the company’s billionaire backers without an exit strategy 11 years after executing one of the media industry’s biggest-ever leveraged buyouts.

The New York-based TV network, a fixture in Spanish-speaking households for decades, pulled its listing plans due to “prevailing market conditions,” according to a filing on Tuesday. The company also replaced its chief financial officer.

Now Univision’s owners, including Scott Sperling’s Thomas H. Lee Partners, David Bonderman’s TPG and Haim Saban, the Israeli-American financier who brought Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to America, must consider their next steps for the business. That’s a challenge in an industry where TV viewership is shrinking and the strategy of the day is growth through acquisition.

The group may have already missed one such opportunity. Univision considered and rejected a $13 billion plus merger offer from Discovery Communications Inc. last year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who couldn’t speak publicly and asked not to be identified. Discovery, part of media magnate John Malone’s investment portfolio, went on to buy Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.

The largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the US was taken private in 2007 in a $12.3 billion deal led by a who’s who of the private equity world that included Madison Dearborn Partners and Providence Equity Partners. Things went south almost immediately with the 2008 financial crisis.

Grupo Televisa

In 2010, Grupo Televisa SAB, Latin America’s largest TV broadcaster, bought a 5% equity stake and debt that could be converted into an additional 30% holding. The two also collaborate on shows, with Grupo Televisa supplying much of the US company’s programming.

The broadcaster first filed to go public in July 2015. Univision had been aiming to list in the second half of 2016, seeking a market value of more than $6.5 billion for the equity portion of the company, people familiar with the matter said in April 2016.

A public offering for the network faced challenges. Its archrival, Comcast Corp.’s Telemundo, will show the World Cup this year, drawing viewers and advertising dollars away from Univision. The fees that Univision pays Televisa for programming will rise this year.

Yet the company remains the most-watched Spanish-language network in the US and carries the UEFA Champions League soccer tournament.

Late Tuesday, the company also named Peter H. Lori as its new chief financial officer, replacing Francisco J. Lopez-Balboa, who has decided to leave the company. Lori will report to Randy Falco, president and chief executive officer.

Like all broadcasters, Univision has suffered a drop in audience ratings, with prime-time viewers down about 17% in the TV season that started in September, according to Nielsen data. A drop in advertising contributed to an 8% decline in revenue in the fourth quarter to $781 million. Bloomberg

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