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Univision Spins To Music Biz

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications has created a music recording and publishing division, which will be headed by Jose Behar – the Latin music veteran who discovered Tejano singing sensation Selena.

The new subsidiary, Univision Music Group, is headquartered in Los Angeles. As part of its music assets, Univision is acquiring a 50% interest in Disa Records, a privately held indie label based in Monterrey, Mexico, whose roster includes Los Angeles Azules.

Disa’s owners, the Chavez family, will retain the other 50% and will continue to manage the business. Terms were not disclosed.

Univision also announced an exclusive distribution accord with Universal Music Group in the United States and Puerto Rico, and an exclusive licensing agreement with Universal elsewhere. However, within Mexico, Disa Records will continue to operate as a fully integrated label.

The music deals represent the third major expansion effort by Univision, whose main asset is its Spanish-language broadcast network, in less than a year.

About six months ago, the group finally launched its online biz, with the portal www.univision.com and an ISP that offers its service via low-cost, financed PCs.

Then in December, Univision announced it was acquiring the USA Networks’ station group from Barry Diller for $1.1 billion. Univision is widely expected to turn those stations into a second, complementary broadcast network. The company will unveil its plans at its May 16 upfront presentation for advertisers in New York.

“Univision’s entry into Spanish-language music is a natural extension of our business and clearly positions the company as a broad-based, multifaceted entertainment company,” Univision chairman-CEO Jerry Perenchio said in a statement.

Music may be the means by which Univision can more readily target younger Hispanics, who may be more bi-cultural and less likely to watch Spanish-language TV.

And Univision Music will be able to take advantage of synergies with the TV and online divisions to promote its talent and records.

Going forward, Univision hopes to derive online content from the music assets. Although the U.S. Latin music market is highly competitive,

“We bring a wonderful track record to the table,” said Behar, 44, who ankled EMI Latin in February after 12 years at the helm.

Under his stewardship, EMI Latin became the leading force in the U.S. in Mexican regional music, a multifaceted genre that accounts for about half of all Latin music sales in the United States and will be the new label’s primary focus.

“The partnership with Disa gives us a solid foundation,” Behar told Daily Variety. “We believe (Mexican regional music) is bigger than 50%. … At the same time, we will be carrying tropical and pop, and will be looking for crossover opportunities.”

Between now and year’s end, Behar will concentrate on building his executive team and signing talent, with an eye to bow the first Univision records by 2002.

The label also will do compilation albums, such as greatest hits, he said.

In the meantime, “Disa is ready to go tomorrow. They’ll be out with something in the next 30-45 days,” he said.

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