Media Consolidation at Point Where Univision Buying the Onion Makes Sense

Sure, it seems like a line out of a satirical article about media consolidation, but your abuela's favorite purveyor of telenovelas has bought a controlling stake in your hipster cousin's favorite fake-news website. Univision announced this morning it has purchased a 40 percent controlling stake in the Onion, with the option of buying the company outright in the future. And, you know, it actually makes sense, especially considering that Univision's own millennial news network, Fusion, continues to struggle. 

Univision, which keeps its headquarters in New York but has much of its production and business operations in Miami, garners ratings that now compete with the major networks. It's not uncommon for the company's flagship network's offerings to attract more eyeballs than some of its English-language peers. Though, TV ratings are down across the board, and Univision's audience still skews older. 

That's a problem for Univision as its prepare to re-debut as a publicly traded company sometime later this year, especially as younger Hispanic Americans prefer to consume media in English. In other words, before returning to the stock market, Univision needs to prove to potential investors that it has a plan for the future. 

To get ahead of the potential growth problem, Univision partnered with Disney-owned ABC News to create Fusion, the Miami-based millennial news network. The original aim was to capture the eyeballs of younger Hispanics, but market testing revealed that many young Hispanics don't like to be marketed to on the basis of being Hispanic, and the network soon shifted its goal to a network for all millennials. 

Fusion, however, hasn't been a roaring success, and Disney is trying to sell off its stake in the network. 

So Univision's purchase of a stake in the Onion gives the company a major entrance into the English-speaking market, and many observers suspect the purchase is meant to help boost Fusion.

"The Onion is a complementary extension of [Univision Communication INC’s] Spanish- and English-language digital portfolio, broadening the company’s multicultural, digital footprint and its reach with a highly coveted millennial audience," the company's news release states. "With more than 25 million engaged monthly uniques on Onion Inc.’s platform, UCI will expand its overall digital presence in multicultural, millennial focused content with this transaction." 

The Onion will continue to have independent editorial control, but Univision hopes to fold content from the Onion into its other brands. 

What that probably means is that the Onion-branded content will end up on Fusion. In fact, in a memo to his staff, obtained by NPR, Onion CEO Mike McAvoy said Fusion will have a major impact on the brand's direction. 

"Comedy is playing an expanding role in our culture as a vehicle for audiences to explore, debate, and understand the important ideas of our time," Isaac Lee, chief news and digital officer of Univision and CEO of Fusion, said in a news release. “It has also proven to be an incredibly engaging format for millennial audiences and is expected to play a key part in the 2016 presidential election process via our robust content offerings in Spanish and English." 

Indeed, Fusion has attempted its own comedy offerings. No, You Shut Up! is produced by a former Daily Show producer and features comedian Paul F. Tompkins and a panel of puppets. The Chris Gethard Show is an offbeat, late-night-style talk show that originated on public-access TV. 

The Onion had previously produced shows for Comedy Central and IFC, though neither attempt was successful. 

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