HC2 also reached a related deal with Northstar Media to take over Azteca’s 19 local TV stations in markets including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, pending the approval of the FCC. The company already controlled a portfolio of mostly low-power stations in the U.S.
Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
HC2, founded in 1994, is led by billionaire Philip Falcone, a figure widely known in financial and New York social circles. Falcone founded and ran Harbinger Capital, a hedge fund that placed successful bets in the mid-to-late-2000s on subprime mortage defaults just before the financial crisis. Falcone later settled charges brought by the SEC over securities fraud and negligence, re-emerging as HC2’s chairman and CEO and taking part in some coverage in the financial press in 2015 and 2016 that positioned HC2 as his comeback vehicle.
On Nov. 8, HC2 reported a third-quarter loss of $6 million on total revenue of $406.4 million. Its annual revenue has tripled since 2015, to nearly $1.5 billion last year.
While not on the same level of prominence as Univision and Telemundo in the broadcast network arena, Azteca is one of the world’s two major producers of Spanish-language TV programming, along with Televisa. The Hispanic marketplace is widely viewed as an area of opportunity given the U.S. Hispanic population of 58 million, second in the world behind Mexico.
According to a transcript of HC2’s last earnings call, Falcone was asked by an analyst about the company’s view of the TV business. He acknowledged the challenges facing broadcasters, but said, “part of the problem has been the content. And again, there’s a real business here, and there’s a business that can be a super-attractive, even niche business without thinking you have to take a big chunk of what’s happening out there.”
Looking at the landscape, he added, “there’s a phenomenal number of content providers that have no means or method to get eyeballs. If anything, it’s becoming more difficult as more and more content, as more and more people, eliminate their cable. … Just based on the critical mass we have and the valuations, we don’t have to have a $5 billion business plan for this thing to be successful and to generate some real attractive valuations.”
The acquisition includes multi-year programming and services agreements providing HC2 with access to TV Azteca’s current programming and library in Mexico. Shows include a full range of scripted, talk, reality and news, plus telenovelas, a traditional staple of the Spanish-language airwaves.