As its financial backers seek to cash out of their $13.7 billion investment, Univision Communications face hurdles in finding a buyer, according to BTIG Research & Strategy’s Rich Greenfield, as Inside Radio reported July 11. The Hispanic broadcaster’s legacy TV business may be a less attractive proposition in a media world where growth is coming from over-the-top streaming video services. Other business publications are now weighing in, including stories in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles Times story explains that when Haim Saban and private equity firms acquired Univision in early 2007, they figured the nation’s largest Spanish-language media company would be a sure bet: “The U.S. economy and Latino population were booming. Advertisers were reaching out to Mexican immigrants who gravitated toward soccer matches and Univision’s news and trademark telenovelas — the Mexican-produced Cinderella love stories that reminded viewers of home.” But now “the world changed.”
After holding out for a big payday, Saban and his partners now are eager to sell the company — even at a discount. The Times goes so far as to suggest, “Unloading what has become a fixer-upper for $8 billion to $10 billion would mark a rare blunder for the Los Angeles investor and his private equity partners.” And yet, there is plenty of blame to go around, the story offers: “Years of boardroom bickering and missteps, including a disastrous foray into English-language media, as well as rising competition from rival Telemundo and shifting demographics, have taken a toll.”
“The structure of that deal, with all that debt, really hamstrung the company,” said Jose Villa, president of Sensis, a Los Angeles advertising firm. “They didn’t have resources to make investments, including digital products. They haven’t evolved — or created anything new.”
For context, the Times story notes that Univision was founded in 1961 with a lone TV station in Texas, and was once the premier Spanish-language destination, commanding 80% of the market. “Its main competitor, Telemundo, was barely a threat. But cable giant Comcast Corp. in 2011 bought NBCUniversal and saw Telemundo as a gem. NBCUniversal began investing, even snatching rights for the FIFA World Cup from Univision, the soccer tournament’s longtime home.”
One fundamental problem for the company, according to Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Global Migration and Demography at the Pew Research Center in Washington, is that while the Latino population continues to swell, growth has come from U.S.-born Latinos who are bilingual or speak English—and they watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, NBC or YouTube. They consume content on their phones. “There is not that replenishment of Univision’s audience that we used to see,” Lopez said.
The Wall Street Journal, however, offers hope in its story: “It isn’t all bad news, though. Deal momentum is in Univision’s corner. As networks look to invest in streaming platforms and compete for eyeballs, larger companies can compete more effectively for content. AT&T and Time Warner, Disney and Fox, and Comcast and Sky have all recently linked up.”
The Journal posits that Univision could be attractive to any of those companies, whose networks would benefit from the diversity that Univision’s audience offers.
And says Villa from advertising agency Sensis, “Univision has a lot of potential. There is still time — if it can connect with the right company that will be there to manage it. They just have to make that shift to digital.”