Univision Communications has formally put itself on the block after announcing late Wednesday that the Spanish-language giant has hired three banks to advise on a strategic review of its options.
Univision’s move is not a surprise. The company, owned by a group of private equity players led by Haim Saban, has struggled in recent years to adapt in a fast-changing media landscape.
The once-dominant Spanish-language TV network in the U.S. has faced tougher competition for most of the past decade from Telemundo, which is part of NBCUniversal. Univision had pursued a public offering in 2017 but it had to be withdrawn because of the company’s underwhelming financials and the general turbulence in the traditional media sector.
Univision said its board of directors approved the review and the hiring of Morgan Stanley, Moelis & Co. and LionTree as advisors.
“After a successful year under the leadership of our new management team, including a complete refocus on our core Spanish-language media business, it is abundantly clear that Univision’s strategic value has never been greater,” Univision said in a statement attributed to the board of directors. “The U.S. Hispanic audience represents one of the very few certain growth opportunities in today’s media marketplace, and Univision is ideally positioned. … As the last major independent broadcast media company in the U.S., a market where scale and strength matter, Univision has the fundamentals for continued growth on its own or with a partner – and after careful consideration, the Board and management team have concluded the time is right to explore strategic options.”
Saban’s Saban Capital and a clutch of private equity firms including Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners, TPG Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners acquired a majority interest in Univision in 2007. Mexican media giant Televisa also owns a sizable stake. Rumored suitors for Univision over the years have included John Malone’s Liberty Media and CBS Corp.
Univision last year replaced CEO Randy Falco with broadcast TV veteran Vincent Sadusky. During the past year, the company has focused on beefing up its local and national news production and like other broadcasters has put an emphasis on live event programming.
This marked a big shift from the previous regime, which sought to diversify Univision with investments in digital media startups ranging from the multicultural news and lifestyle sites the Root and Fusion to pop culture-centric A.V. Club and the Onion. In April, Univision struck a deal to sell most of that digital portfolio to private equity firm Great Hill Partners.
“Univision is strategically, operationally and financially strong, having refocused on serving our core consumers, as well as our advertising and distribution partners. Over the past year, Univision has gained momentum as it has divested non-core assets; strengthened programming; secured long-term distribution deals and valuable sports rights; increased investment in news, sports, local, and digital offerings; and materially strengthened its balance sheet,” Sadusky said. “The current environment favors scale and cross-platform offerings, and we believe those major media companies that fail to recognize and capitalize on this unique opportunity in Spanish-language media will be left behind.”