It will not be easy to find a buyer for Univisión, the largest Hispanic TV network in the US. The Wall Street Journal reported last Wednesday that they hired Morgan Stanley and LionTree to begin exploring their sale, owned by Haim Saban, an entertainment tycoon with close ties to the Clintons, and who acquired the company in 2007 for $12.3 billion. It was another time for the industry.
The main problem in the operation, LPO found out, is that Saban is requesting $20 billion. His scheming is concrete: Univisión owes $7.5 billion, and the tycoon, who is a Televisa partner, would cancel the monumental debt. He could walk away with more than what he invested, along with three additional partners, to get into the Hispanic television market.
The problem is that Univisión no longer has the influence it did back in 2007. One look into the financial reports is enough: the earnings from the first quarter of 2019 are $24 million, whereas a year ago they were $48 million. This adds up to a possible judicial procedure against them by cable company Dish. It is hard to see that a company with such numbers is worth $20 billion.
Instead, Telemundo, their rival, owned by Comcast NBC, has grown strong in ratings among the Hispanic audience. Univisión's strategy towards this phenomenon was hiring Colombian executive Isaac Lee, who started buying several websites in English aimed at young people as a measure to diversify their audience. The result was disastrous: less than two years later these sites were sold by $140 million -less than what was paid for them. It was necessary to let go of 200 people and Lee was fired in July of 2018. A few months later, CEO Randy Falco followed him.
The selling process has another complexity: every potential buyer is already in different processes of merging. Fox News with Disney, Time Warner and AT&T, and Comcast with British company Sky. The road for the three cases was the same: a complementary fusion of contents and a strong bet on digital platforms, in the style of Netflix and Prime Video. This is something which Univisión, by the way, still lacks.
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