- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

LOS ANGELES — he year was 1985, and Andrew Jerrold Perenchio was eyeing the kind of deal that eventually would help make him a billionaire twice over.

The one-time Hollywood agent, boxing promoter and entrepreneur bet that he could buy the Loews Theater chain for $160 million and flip it to film studios eager to own a piece of the movie house business.

The deal elicited doubt in Hollywood — had a keen deal maker paid too much? Less than two years later, Mr. Perenchio sold the eight-state chain for a reported $300 million.

Now 75, Mr. Perenchio is poised for another lucrative exit.

Last month, he agreed to sell his biggest enterprise, Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications Inc., to a private investor group for $12.3 billion plus the assumption of $1.4 billion in debt.

Mr. Perenchio stands to make upward of $1 billion on a deal expected to close early next year. He’s already worth $2.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

“He doesn’t make bad mistakes,” said Hollywood producer Bud Yorkin, who was business partners with Mr. Perenchio in the 1970s and ‘80s. “He’s always had kind of the proper timing — when to jump in and when to jump out.”

Mr. Perenchio is not Hispanic and doesn’t speak Spanish. In fact, he rarely speaks publicly at all, and through a Univision spokeswoman declined interview requests for this story.

His track record in business speaks volumes.

“Jerry is not the greatest talker in the world, he’s just the greatest doer in the world,” said longtime friend and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

Under Mr. Perenchio, Univision has prospered — in many markets, Univision stations regularly garner more viewers than English-language networks in prime time. The broadcaster’s three television networks, local TV stations and other properties have grown into the most-popular media outlets for U.S. Hispanics, whose economic clout is projected to surpass $1 billion by the end of the decade, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

After 14 years heading Univision, his decision to sell has been largely seen as another instance of canny investment timing.

Mr. Perenchio started early in show business, as a student in the early 1950s at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he booked bands on the side.

After a stint in the Air Force, the Fresno, Calif., native went to work as a theatrical agent for Music Corp. of America. When antitrust issues forced the company to sell its talent agency, Mr. Perenchio started his own shop, Chartwell Artists, and landed Hollywood icons including Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor.

In the 1970s, Mr. Perenchio ventured into sports entertainment by co-promoting the first clash of undefeated heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Mr. Perenchio saw the fight’s potential and guaranteed a $5 million purse.

“It just knocked everybody over,” said Bill Caplan, a longtime boxing publicist who worked for Mr. Perenchio in the mid-1970s.

Such bold moves were not uncommon. Mr. Perenchio, an avid poker player, offered to pay $1 million plus expenses to Ali and Frazier for the right to promote their second bout, the so-called “Rumble in The Jungle,” Mr. Caplan said.

“He hung up the phone, looked at me and he said, ‘That’s a lot of money, even if you say it fast,’” Mr. Caplan recalled.

Don King ended up promoting the fight, but that didn’t dissuade Mr. Perenchio. In 1973, he promoted the Bobby Riggs-Billie Jean King tennis match. That year Mr. Perenchio became partners with Mr. Yorkin and Norman Lear after he helped manage the debut of soundtracks for two of the pair’s big TV shows, “All In The Family” and “Sanford & Son.”

“We were building the company. We needed someone who knew what to do,” said Mr. Yorkin, 80. “He was the one that did it all.”

Mr. Perenchio’s initial forays into Spanish-language broadcasting also came in the 1970s, when his company owned and operated a Spanish-language station in Los Angeles and later one in New York. Both were sold in 1982, but Mr. Perenchio didn’t lose his interest in the market.

In 1992, he teamed up with Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, then head of Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa SA, and Venezuelan media mogul Gustavo Cisneros to buy Univision for $550 million from Hallmark Cards Inc.

Mr. Perenchio retained a majority stake, thus avoiding problems over U.S. rules against foreigners owning broadcast stations.

In a coup that helped establish Univision’s rating dominance, Mr. Perenchio struck a 25-year program-licensing agreement with his partners that gave Univision exclusive rights to broadcast their TV shows in the United States.

Televisa’s slate of shows, in particular, helped make Univision the ratings leader well ahead of rivals like Hialeah, Fla.-based Telemundo and Azteca America, the U.S. network of Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca SA.

Having built Univision into a ratings behemoth, Mr. Perenchio saw the time had come to cash in once more.

Some suggest Mr. Perenchio’s timing could reflect something else.

“Univision may well be at the highest rating level that it may ever achieve,” said Julio Rumbaut, a former senior adviser for Univision who now is a private consultant on Hispanic media.

And Telemundo, which is owned by General Electric Co.’s NBC television network, and TV Azteca, remain potential threats, Mr. Rumbaut said.

Univision’s key market advantage — its programming licensing deal — is set to expire in 2017, but Univision could find itself without the ratings advantage sooner, if a pending court challenge succeeds. Televisa wants to cancel Univision’s right to first dibs on its programming so it can distribute shows over the Internet.

Such scenarios represented a less than ideal backdrop for wooing buyers down the road.

Mr. Yorkin said he doesn’t know how Mr. Perenchio, who lives with his third wife in the Bel-Air estate once used in “The Beverly Hillbillies,” might spend his time after Univision.

For now, Mr. Yorkin said they’re working to re-release a DVD version of the 1982 science fiction thriller “Blade Runner,” which the pair co-produced.

“He’s not going to stop,” Mr. Yorkin said. “He’s not one of those guys that can be retired.”

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