NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a victory for Univision Communications in a long battle over who has the U.S. digital rights to the popular shows made by Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa and aired in the U.S. by the leading Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, a U.S. judge ruled that it's not Televisa.
Philip S. Gutierrez, the U.S. district judge who heard the case in a Los Angeles court, concluded in a 21-page ruling: "Televisa is prohibited from making programs... available to viewers in the United States via the Internet."
But there is more squabbling to come. Televisa was quick to point out in a statement that the judge's decision, issued late Friday, July 17, doesn't explicitly grant Univision the right to put Televisa's shows online in the U.S. Televisa said it will appeal the ruling, and also oppose any attempt by Univision to distribute Televisa's programs online to a U.S. audience.
Univision claims victory
"We are very pleased with today's ruling," said Joe Uva, CEO of Univision Communications, in a statement. The company said Univision is "exploring its legal options in order to provide this content to its audience over the internet in the U.S. in the future."
The issue has become a hot topic as the U.S. Hispanic online audience, and advertisers trying to reach them, is growing rapidly. Univision's main rival, NBC Universal-owned Telemundo Group, is increasingly leveraging its own programming online.
The dispute stems from a 25-year programming agreement that Univision and Televisa signed in 1992 to guarantee Univision exclusive rights to broadcast Televisa's popular telenovelas and other shows in the U.S. until 2017 in return for a chunk of Univision's ad revenue. Univision claimed the long-term agreement covers all broadcast media, even though digital media didn't exist when it was signed.
Earlier this year, Mr. Gutierrez presided over a jury trial to decide whether Televisa could terminate the long-term programming agreement by proving that Univision had "materially breached" the contract by underpaying Televisa. The two broadcasters reached a settlement in mid-trial in January 2009 that gave Televisa substantially more money and Univision the security of continuing the agreement that supplies most of its hit shows and much of its ad revenue. Rather than tackling digital rights then, a separate trial to decide that key issue was held in June, without a jury but before the same judge. In his ruling after considering testimony and post-trial submissions from both sides, Mr. Gutierrez rejected Televisa's argument for the online U.S. rights and endorsed Univision's definition of broadcast rights, but appeared to stop short of giving Univision the go-ahead to exploit the U.S. digital rights.
Televisa blocks U.S. video
Until now, Univision has been unable to use video from Televisa's shows on its web site, and Televisa has had to block the video channels on its Mexican site Esmas.com from U.S. viewers. And with little incentive to issue takedown notices when its content is posted online, Univision has the distinction of being the most-pirated network on YouTube, according to internet monitor Tube Mogul.
"The only winners from this decision will be the internet sites that illegally transmit Televisa's content," Televisa said in its statement.
Although the two broadcasters are usually in a dispute over something, the fighting has grown especially bitter because Univision passed over Televisa's bid to buy Univision in 2007 and sold to a private-equity group instead.