As the fourth quarter approaches, the strategic review that Univision confirmed it has undertaken continues. And while CEO Vince Sadusky has said he sees value in maintaining the company’s radio and television portfolios as sister divisions, those outside the company say it’s increasingly likely that Univision Radio will be spun-off with at least one potential offer already in the works. A source involved stressed the conversations are still early and no bid for the 58-station radio unit may ultimately be submitted.
Among the potential hurdles being contemplated by the would-be buyer is the need to convince Univision’s board to break apart the radio-TV combination that dates back to its 2002 acquisition of Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. for $3.5 billion. “Radio should be spun right now, no doubt. They shouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. But we’re not there yet,” said the person close to the deal-making.
Since Sadusky was named chief executive last year, Univision has taken a renewed interest in its radio properties including further investments in its digital extensions. But the reboot has yet to pay off. The company reported second quarter Univision Radio revenue fell 5% compared to the prior year, due to weak local ad sales. “Vince Sadusky is doing a great job. He has brought more energy and more growth on the TV side. But Univision Radio is stumbling and stumbling quite badly,” said the deal-maker, who noted Spanish Broadcasting System’s stations have overtaken Univision’s cluster in the key Los Angeles market ratings.
On a conference call with analysts last month, Sadusky made no secret of his preference to keep television, radio and digital under the same roof saying the various assets allow Univision to “surround” the consumer. “I believe it’s complementary and it fits well with the overall value of the strength of the asset package,” he said. But Sadusky also acknowledged that he’s just one of the 19 Univision board members reviewing strategic options for the company, and “others may have a different view.”
The task of bringing offers to the Univision board now rests with J.P. Morgan and media brokers say they don’t expect to see any quick action, pointing out the company has been open to a sale and exploring various options for the past five years. But in this latest push, if no serious buyers emerge by year-end, brokers say Univision may realize it’ll need to make some concessions in order to lure someone to make an offer. “That’s when the term fire sale comes in,” said one broker.
Justin Nielson, a Senior Research Analyst at Kagan, said the combination of radio and television is one of the biggest factors in why no deal has gotten done to date. “That is probably one of the reasons it hasn’t sold yet,” he said. “I’m sure there are private equity groups that would just take the TV stations and the network and spin off the radio division. But Univision wants to sell it whole because there’s not a marketplace for the radio division right now.”
Further complicating matters is Univision continues to be laden with debt tied to its 2007 buyout that saw a consortium of private equity players including Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, Saban Capital, TPG Global and Thomas H. Lee Partners pay $13.7 billion for the company. Of that, $7.43 billion in debt remains on the books.
“The real problem is there is a very slim equity slice in that business because they have so much debt,” said Nielson. “Whoever the buyer is would basically be buying the debt on the company because there isn’t a lot of growth right now.” That’s one reason why he believes if the television business sells, it may be to a company that could pair it with English-language TV assets. Nielson isn’t alone as some on Wall Street speculate the combined ViacomCBS may be among the suitors, with The Walt Disney Company and Fox Corp. also being mentioned.
As for which operators in radio may be interested in acquiring Univision Radio, fewer names are in circulation. Most speculation centers on Meruelo Media. The company backed by Cuban-American billionaire Alex Meruelo has spent $160.75 million during the past two years to build out its Los Angeles cluster and, in late August, it brought aboard LBI Media veteran Winter Horton to serve as the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Radio is only one business segment for the Meruelo Group, a diversified holding company with interests in three dozen companies including banking, real estate, media, restaurants, food, casinos, and professional sports.
Meruelo Media didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on whether it is considering bidding for Univision Radio.
“Trying to handicap where potential acquirers might be in their processes is a very difficult thing,” Sadusky told analysts last month. He also noted that the possibility of a recession could be a factor in whether any deal gets done. But given the growth of the Hispanic market and what Sadusky said is Univision’s “strategic operational and financial strength,” he expects there will be interest, especially for its TV business. “Even if timing may not be perfect for certain folks, you've got to give this thing a good hard look because this is the last opportunity for this asset to trade,” he said.