Updated from 6:29 a.m. EST

Two private equity firms hoping to acquire Univision ( UVN) have come up with a key weapon in that battle: an alliance with Mexican television operator Televisa ( TV).

Late Thursday, a group including Televisa, Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros and private equity companies Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn Partners emerged as a likely bidder for Univision, sources familiar with the situation said.

While the bidding is in early stages, and other teams are likely to step forward, Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn scored a coup by lining up with Televisa. The team is even stronger with Cisneros, a Latin American media tycoon who owns a stake in Univision through his company Venevision.

After a months of speculation and stock appreciation, Univision said on Feb. 8 that it was exploring strategic opportunities and had chosen UBS to advise the process. The confirmation added urgency to the steady circling that had been taking place around the company. As in any bidding battle, private equity companies can spend months courting the appropriate bidding partners and conjuring up the best financing package, often before a company says it is officially for sale.

When Univision first said it was exploring strategic alternatives, large media companies were thought unlikely to bid for all of the U.S. Hispanic radio and television assets. Federal Communications Commission restrictions make an acquisition of the entire company difficult, because many large broadcasters would have to divest stations in order to meet ownership caps.

In Univision's case, private equity firms have salivated over the idea of a takeover, and many of them are at least taking a peek. The company's 62 television stations and 69 radio stations in the growing Hispanic media market throw off enough free cash to make returns hefty. Indeed, Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn have been courting Televisa for months, said sources.

Televisa, which from the beginning was seen as the best partner for Univision, was probably a much sought-after partner among private equity companies. The Mexico-based media firm is a large programming provider for Hispanic language shows for Univision, for which Univision pays substantial fees. Those fees could be eliminated by the two teaming up.

Televisa would have been a great stand-alone owner of Univision, given this overlap. But foreign media ownership restrictions in the U.S. won't allow the Mexico-based firm to own Univision by itself, forcing the team to partner with the private equity pair.

Meanwhile, Cisneros could be an essential partner. His reach in the Mexican media market, which has far more political impact and consideration than media ownership in the U.S., makes his negotiating ability invaluable. Cisneros also owns Venevision, which has a stake in Univision.

Providence Equity is primarily a media investment shop. It already owns a number of other media assets, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Kerasotes Theaters and Freedom Communications, as well as the Spanish newspaper company Recoletos Grupo de Comunicacion. The company also owns ProSiebenSat.1, which it teamed up with Haim Saban to purchase; he is also said to be part of this consortium.

While it's far too early to say how the players will line up, one thing is certain: Providence Equity and Madison Dearborn wanted to stake their partnership with Televisa early in the bidding process. With that alliance in hand, the group's early lead could be hard to overcome.

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