Big news in the Internet comedy world today as Spanish-language media giant Univision has bought a 40 percent stake in the satirical comedy website The Onion. The deal, which the New York Times values at slightly under $200 million, also gives Univision a piece of the AV Club, Clickhole, and StarWipe, all of which are part of the Onion Inc. portfolio.
“The Onion is a complementary extension of UCI’s Spanish- and English-language digital portfolio, broadening the company’s multicultural, digital footprint and its reach with a highly coveted millennial audience,” Univision said. “With more than 25 million engaged monthly uniques on Onion Inc.’s platform, UCI will expand its overall digital presence in multicultural, millennial focused content with this transaction.”
It’s a huge acquisition for Univision, obviously, but the big question for comedy fans is how our beloved Onion will change. There’s no concrete indication one way or the other quite yet, but THR did have this to say:
While Onion Inc. will operate independently, “maintaining the integrity of the brand and editorial voice,” the companies said Univision will have oversight of Onion Inc. “to leverage Univision Digital’s distribution, resources and media expertise to expand the exposure of the brand.”
So, according to that slightly fuzzy statement, everything will stay the same except for marketing. Which would be great. But there’s also this, from The Times:
In a memo to employees, Mike McAvoy, the president and chief executive of Onion Inc., said the deal came after the company had searched for a partner during the last year to help the company grow. He said that after acquiring a “good chunk” of Onion Inc., Univision could acquire the remainder of the company in the future.
“As an independent media company, we’ve always been forced to run a tight financial ship, which has made us smart and lean, but not always ready to invest in the great new ideas that we come up with,” Mr. McAvoy said in the memo. “I’m excited to see what we can do with Univision behind us.”
Univision could have a majority share fairly soon. Right now, the best guess is that nothing will change beyond the amount of money The Onion has at its disposal, and you’d think Univision would be crazy to try to change something they clearly value highly, and that clearly works. Then again, predicting what happens at a big media company is a dangerous game, and even though we may have every reason to expect the best, it’s always a little scary when a place like The Onion gives up a part of its independence and puts its faith in a corporate power that pledges non-interference. We’ve seen recently, with sites like Grantland, how quickly a relationship can deteriorate between a creative site and its corporate overlord.
On the other hand, Univision chief news and digital officer Isaac Lee is talking a really good game, and seems to understand what The Onion is all about:
“Comedy is playing an expanding role in our culture as a vehicle for audiences to explore, debate, and understand the important ideas of our time. It has also proven to be an incredibly engaging format for millennial audiences, and is expected to play a key part in the 2016 presidential election process via our robust content offerings in Spanish and English. The Onion has been, and continues to be, a leading force of this phenomenon of intellectual, social, cultural and satirical commentary online.”
Let’s hope he and his company walk the walk. As far as pure content is concerned, the status quo is a very good thing when it comes to The Onion.