Univision Buys Large Stake in Satirical Site “The Onion”
By Burt Carey
This one’s not a joke.
Aiming to attract millennials to its audience, Hispanic media giant Univision announced on Tuesday that it has purchased a controlling interest in the online satirical publication TheOnion.com.
In typical Onion fashion, no such news was reported on its website Tuesday, as more significant news items reflected the publication’s cutting-edge style. Headlines today were: “NCAA Investigating God for Giving Gifts To Athletes,” and “Governor Demands To Know Which Star On American Flag Is Iowa’s.”
Univision is the parent company to the leading Spanish-language broadcast channel in the United States, and very much a serious media company. By acquiring The Onion, the company signaled that it may be preparing for a much-rumored bid to go public with a strong property that appeals to an English-speaking 18- to 34-year-old audience. It could also fit well with Fusion, a digital/TV project that is a joint effort between Univision and ABC.
Terms of the deal were not made public, but media analysts ventured that the buying price was less than $200 million. With it comes The Onion’s highly touted staff of editorial satirists, the company’s advertising agency, Onion Labs, as well as two sister sites, The A.V. Club and ClickHole. Univision is rumored to be in negotiations to buy Disney’s share of Fusion. In December, TheOnion.com drew 19.3 million unique visitors in the U.S., according to comScore.
TheOnion.com bills itself as “the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1765, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.” Its tongue is firmly planted inside of someone’s cheek.
“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,” said Isaac Lee, Univision’s president of news and digital. “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.”
Originally a 1980s print publication, The Onion began in Madison, Wis., before moving to New York in 2001, and then to Chicago where its headquarters are today. Univision says The Onion will remain in Chicago. Its last print edition was published in December 2013.
Onion CEO Mike McAvoy addressed the sale in a staff memo Tuesday: “What does this mean for us as a company? Good things. Univision is excited to help Onion Inc. grow, and to provide the resources to both support our long-standing mission and fund new initiatives. They’ll help us keep the foundation strong and to build great new things on top of it. As an independent media company, we’ve always been forced to run a tight financial ship, which has made us smart and lean, but not always ready to invest in the great new ideas that we come up with.”