Private equity fascination with
is bubbling, but a mad dash for Spanish-language media gold among strategic players has largely stalled, sources say.
Univision, which owns TV and radio station assets along with networks, is likely to fetch a pretty penny when a sale does finally come together. But aside from big partner
, big media's interest in Univision has waned, according to sources who cite price, regulatory hurdles and rival strategic priorities.
Mexico's Televisa, an 11% owner and huge programming supplier, is the main strategic player eyeing Los Angeles-based Univision seriously. It is expected to bid with a consortium of private equity interests in coming weeks. Televisa will be looking to take a 25% stake in the company, the legal foreign ownership limit.
Other media companies including
have all kicked the tires but backed off, sources say, despite Univision's attractive asset mix and growth profile. All three companies declined to comment.
Sources say the one big media company that could still be in the mix is
. The Burbank, Calif., media giant has the most flexibility among big strategic players where ownership restrictions are concerned, sources say.
Disney, of course, is in the process of closing a deal to divest itself of its ABC radio assets to a
venture. But Disney still owns ESPN radio and other AM radio assets, so it's conceivable that Univision's 69 radio stations could come in handy.
Still, the pending $6.4 billion acquisition of
is keeping Disney busy. Disney declined to comment.
Multiple sources say they doubt Disney is a likely participant in the Univision auction. The company has done due diligence on Univision and may be scheduled to see an upcoming presentation, according to sources. But "they just did a deal to buy Pixar that could have crushed them. I do not believe for one second that they will double down here -- it would be quite unusual and very uncharacteristic of them," says one source close to the company.
Still, one significant investor who owns both Univision and Disney shares noted that given Disney's room on the TV station ownership cap front, "It might be an easier deal for them."
One source also cautioned to never count News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch out of anything.
Meanwhile, CBS executives have said repeatedly that they are not interested in an acquisition of Univision's size. Media reports have put a deal in the $12 billion range.
While it is still possible that CBS could team up with other parties, a deal would pit CBS against nearly every FCC ownership limit. CBS already owns two networks in CBS and UPN, and the rule prohibiting companies from owning a third would come into play. One source waves off talk of possible partnerships, saying they are a move "back towards complexity" when the industry is moving in the opposite direction.
The same can be said of
, which owns both NBC and Telemundo. NBC declined to comment. News Corp. owns just one network but is at the TV station ownership cap.
Time Warner execs acknowledged earlier this month that they were taking a peek at the company. But while Time Warner doesn't face regulatory hurdles, it is committed to share buybacks, an AOL rehabilitation and its Adelphia acquisition. One source says Time Warner took a hard look at the assets but "put the pencil down on it, and moved on."
Groups said to be interested in Univision include an alliance of Goldman Sachs Capital, Thomas Lee Partners and Texas Pacific Group and another group that includes Providence, Madison Dearborn and possibly mogul Hiam Saban.
Bain Capital is said to be interested in providing floating capital, according to sources.
The Carlyle Group, KKR and a host of other private equity interests may be in the mix. Sources say large hedge funds have also been approached to participate. Venezuela's Cisneros Group, which owns some 12% of Univision, is also expected to weigh heavily into scenarios.
Univision has hired UBS to run the process.
On Friday shares of Univision rose 62 cents to $35.65.