What Gawker Media Can Do for Univision

Broadcaster Agreed to Pay $135 Million for Beleaguered Company

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Univision and Fusion Media headquarters.
Univision and Fusion Media headquarters. Credit: Univision
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On Tuesday, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton announced in a statement that his company will be sold to Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster. The deal isn't done, though. A judge still needs to sign off on the purchase, but it seems like a formality.

Now, the bigger question is: Why Univision? And, for Univision, why Gawker? Unfortunately, Univision isn't talking, and doesn't plan to make any executives available to discuss the purchase until the deal closes, which a company source said will likely happen on Thursday.

In some senses, it's an obvious fit. Univision is building a diversified, millennial-focused, English-language media company in The Fusion Media Group, and Gawker Media's brands speak natively to a younger, tech-savvy audience.

"There's more editorial overlap (and ridiculous talent) than a lot of people give either place credit for, and I'm very optimistic about both their futures," a Fusion employee said of the deal.

Gawker Media Group also offers scale. Mr. Denton, a few hours before the winning bidder was announced, tweeted a screenshot showing that the company's brands attracted 56 million U.S. unique visitors in July, according to ComScore data.

Univision and Fusion are focused right now on courting advertisers. In April, Condé Nast and Time Inc. veteran Jason Wagenheim joined the company as senior VP-brand partnerships and head of revenue. In an interview in May, he told Ad Age that Fusion will be reintroduced to the advertising community this summer. (Before Univision took full control of Fusion, as announced in April, ABC handled ad sales for the network.)

Sarah Baehr, Horizon Media executive VP and managing partner of digital investment, said Mr. Wagenheim reached out to her recently, and she met with the folks from Fusion a few weeks ago.

Ms. Baehr came away impressed. Summing up the company's millennial-focused pitch, she said, "This audience is inherently multicultural, and how we talk to them and how we approach them and the content we're creating for them is something that should reflect that."

But it's hard to know whether the addition of Gawker to the portfolio will make a material difference in how agencies and clients view Fusion -- and Univision -- as an advertising partner.

Here's another theory about the purchase, from a media executive who has been closely watching the company for years: it's all about TV, and "about compiling brands that are just-below-top-tier (so at a discounted price) and leveraging it all into a revised Fusion cable channel that can actually attract audiences (once it is distributed into enough homes) and the carriage fees and advertising that comes with it."

Univision could potentially tap Gawker Media's brands to produce content for the Fusion TV channel, which is in need of compelling programming -- though it might want to start smaller, with digital video shows that can be tested online and fine-tuned, which is how both Vice and BuzzFeed have approached TV production.

A TV project is reportedly in the works for The Onion, which Univision recently took a 40% stake in. According to a Deadline report in late April, Fusion is planning a weekly TV show tied to pop-culture focused The A.V. Club, which is part of the Onion's portfolio.

There are plenty of digital media companies interested in bringing their content and their ideas to television. Because Fusion already has a channel, and because Univision has plenty of TV production know-how, there are far fewer hurdles to be cleared.

"Univision is a TV company," the media executive said. "Always has been. A tiger doesn't change its stripes ... Univision can learn to be more digital, but it can't forget how to extract great profit from the TV business."