COMPANY TOWN

It's no joke: Univision buys a stake in the Onion

Spanish-language media company Univision Communications is taking a stake in the Onion.

Seriously.

The two companies said Tuesday they had struck a deal for Univision to acquire a significant interest in the satirical news company, the Onion Inc. The outlet, which started in Wisconsin 28 years ago as a scrappy newspaper, maintains several websites, including the Onion.

Over the years, it published such faux articles as “Supreme Court Rules Supreme Court Rules” in 1997 and “Bush: Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over,” in 2001, shortly after President George W. Bush took office.

 

"As most of you know, Onion Inc. has been searching for the past year for a partner to help our company continue to thrive and grow," Onion Inc. Chief Executive Mike McAvoy wrote Tuesday in a memo to employees.

"It’s been a long, sometimes complicated process…. Lots of entities showed lots of interest, which was encouraging," McAvoy wrote. "There’s a lot of love in the world for our publications."

The two companies declined to discuss terms of the deal, including valuation or the size of Univision’s investment.

McAvoy, in his memo, said Univision had bought “a good chunk” of the Onion and has an option to acquire all of it later. The Onion will continue to operate from Chicago.

The Onion also runs sites called the A.V. Club, Clickhole, StarWipe, and it operates Onion Studios.

Univision is best known for its melodramatic prime-time soap operas called telenovelas, its soccer coverage and advocacy journalism. Its national news co-anchor, Jorge Ramos, prominently challenged Donald Trump over comments the Republican candidate made last summer about Mexican immigrants.

Beyond the TV screen, Univision has been making gains in the English-language digital space with its edgy news brand Fusion, which was developed as a pet project of Univision’s news and digital chief, Isaac Lee. Fusion maintains both a cable TV channel and a website.

Univision’s goal has been to diversify its holdings and reach younger consumers, including English speakers who might not watch the company's TV networks Univision, UniMas and Galavision.

Univision’s core television audience is Mexican immigrants, their families and other Spanish-speaking viewers. However, immigration patterns from Latin America have slowed in recent years and Univision’s ratings seem to have plateaued as the company faces increasing competition.

Walt Disney Co. owns 50% of Fusion, but Disney is looking to exit the investment, in part because of Univision’s rising political profile, according to a person close to the company who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

In addition, Fusion’s operations have lost more than $50 million, according to Univision regulatory filings.

Univision is owned by four private equity firms and Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, who has long been a prominent backer of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Mexico City media giant Grupo Televisa also owns a significant interest in Univision Communications.

Univision filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission last summer to become a publicly traded company.

Univision had planned to go public last fall, but those plans were scrapped because of turbulence in the stock market. It then planned to go public this month, but the year opened with more market volatility. Media stocks have been hard hit.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE:

9:25 a.m.  This article was update throughout with more information on Univision, the Onion and the company's plans for an IPO.

This article was originally published at 7:33 a.m.

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