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AT&T U-Verse holds Univision programming hostage

Once again, the powerful and wealthy pay-TV industry is playing politics with Americans’ access to vital programming in order to pad their pocketbooks. On Friday, March 4, AT&T U-Verse stopped providing Univision’s networks to its millions of subscribers around the United States. While AT&T has agreed to pay market rates to English-language broadcasters, it apparently does not feel it necessary to treat the largest U.S. Spanish-language network, known for its unique relationship and commitment to the Hispanic community, in the same manner.

Indeed, viewers who lost service learned very quickly what AT&T thinks of Spanish-language media. In place of Univision’s networks were notices saying “please enjoy” a few other Spanish-language networks that AT&T carries, as if all Spanish-language networks are interchangeable. Meanwhile, there are Spanish-speaking households across the country who are currently blocked from accessing the Univision networks they pay for and depend upon. These subscribers are turning on their televisions and finding that they cannot watch the content they love and need most, simply because AT&T does not value these paying customers’ needs and interests. That is not just bad business – it’s bad ethics.

{mosads}Univision said in a statement on the matter, “AT&T’s discriminatory behavior is preventing Hispanic America from receiving content and information in language and in culture, which is especially vital during this election year. These disputes can be confusing for consumers, but in our case it’s simple: we must receive fair compensation, on par with English language broadcasters.”

Troublingly, AT&T U-Verse is especially prevalent in many of the country’s areas with the highest concentration of Spanish-speaking citizens, including places like Los Angeles, Miami and Texas. These parts of the country are also areas that consistently watch Univision programming the most. In fact, Univision announced this week in an unrelated statement, “During the February 2016 sweep, Univision stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas ranked No. 1 in Total Day viewing among Adults 18-34, regardless of language, and in Los Angeles among Adults 18-49. Additionally, the Univision station in Los Angeles ranked No.1 in primetime among Adults 18-49 and Adults 18-34.” As evidenced by these statistics, these stations are not only important for Spanish-only households, but also for bilingual and multilingual consumers. In fact, according to data from Nielsen, 78 percent of homes that consider themselves to be Spanish-dominant ONLY watch TV in Spanish, and multi-language homes viewed about 50 percent Spanish-language TV.

If, as the most popular Spanish-language broadcaster, Univision does not take a stand and require distributors to treat its programming on par with English-language broadcasters, what does that mean for other minority and independent creators?

We urge AT&T to reconsider its decision to not fairly compensate Univision and to treat Spanish-language broadcasters equally with their English-language counterparts. It’s a matter of fairness, and AT&T’s millions of subscribers deserve to get what they pay for.

West is the president of the Hispanic Institute.

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