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Univision, an early Comcast critic, signs long-term sports deal

Univision, an early critic of Comcast's bid for Time Warner Cable, on Tuesday agreed to a long-term deal to bring the Hispanic media firm's sports network to Comcast cable subscribers.

Univision Deportes Network, which has exclusive rights to air Mexico's Liga MX soccer matches, will be offered starting next month to subscribers of Comcast's premium Digital Preferred package or its Latino services. UDN also airs international soccer matches, Formula 1 races and NFL, MLB and NBA games for Spanish-speaking audiences. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

The popularity of sports programming among the U.S. Spanish-speaking population is booming, and Univision saw huge ratings for the FIFA World Cup matches -- on television and online. That has made Univision a target of acquisition, as big media firms see continued growth in the market for Hispanic viewers.

Univision competes directly with Comcast's Telemundo, which also operates a sports network, called Deportes Telemundo. That's why Univision chief executive Randy Falco was so concerned when Comcast announced its $45 billion bid for Time Warner Cable earlier this year. Telemundo is owned by Comcast's NBC Universal.

Falco said in April that Comcast and Time Warner Cable would serve 91 percent of all Hispanic households as the top TV distributor 16 of the 20 top markets. That's on top of the combined company's control of more than 40 percent of the broadband Internet market, through which more consumers are getting their video news and entertainment.

"I am still concerned that the proposed merger could be bad for competition and, most importantly, bad for Hispanic audiences," Falco said during a first-quarter earnings conference call. "The fact is that there is not one other media or telecommunications company that has the level of vertical integration of Comcast – I'm talking about video, broadband and content – not Google, not AT&T, not Facebook, not the satellite providers."

The deal between Comcast and Univision may allay concerns raised by Falco as regulators consider how programmers are affected by a much bigger and more powerful distribution network for cable and Internet services.

Univision declined to comment on their current views of the merger.

Comcast has defended its proposed merger, saying it doesn't compete directly with Time Warner Cable in regional markets so won't curb competition or hurt partners like programmers.