The recent acquisition of Gawker by Univision shows the Spanish-language media company is keen on expanding its foothold on the U.S. media landscape.
The $135 million purchase of Gawker and its subsidiaries – which includes the sites Gizmodo, Jezebel and Deadspin – shows an inclination by the Spanish-language media giant to not only diversify its holdings, but to reach out to the large millennial market that consumes its news and information in vastly different ways than previous generations, according to those who follow media trends.
“They are trying to reach the coveted youth, millennial market. They are also trying to tap into the English-language market,” said Jillian Báez, assistant professor in the department of media culture at the College of Staten Island – CUNY. “Univision has wanted to create content for English-language audiences since its early history in the U.S. However, due to broadcasting policies that limited foreign ownership and advertisers’ disinterest, Univision was unable to fulfill that goal.”
She is not alone in her assessment.
“Univision sees the acquisitions of Gawker, The Onion and the launching of Univision News as a way to increase market share and broaden its digital and TV audience. It hopes to reach out to new and younger audiences open to a more creative and multicultural approach to media,” said Aly Colón, the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Media Ethics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
Media consumption has changed since Univision was founded in 1962 as has its audience.
A recent poll by Fox News Latino found that 79 percent of Latinos prefer to get their news in English.
And by all appearances, Univision knows this.
This strategy to diversify dates back to 2013 when Univision entered into a partnership with Disney – the parent company of ABC – to create Fusion which was aimed at attracting younger viewers. In April of this year, Univision bought out Disney’s 50 percent stake and created Fusion Media Group. In June it launched Univision News, which, according to the company, “aims to expand Univision’s reach by serving an English-speaking audience.”
“They are diversifying their outlets. This also includes their acquisition of Bounce TV. Part of their strategy is to attract millennials – who tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse than older U.S. audiences,” Báez said. “Univision, alongside its competitor Telemundo, has faced difficulty reaching second and third generation bilingual and English-dominant Latinos – what they refer to as bilennials. Part of this is an issue with language – many second-plus generation Latinos prefer to consume most media content in English.”
But simply providing content geared toward bilennials doesn’t guarantee a receptive audience.
“So far, audiences are having lukewarm responses to Univision’s and Telemundo’s attempts,” Báez said, pointing to Telemundo’s Mun2 network, which was aimed at bilennials and was rebranded as NBC Universo last year and switched back to Spanish-language content.
Unlike some of its Latino-oriented counterparts, Bounce TV, which is aimed at a young African-American audience, now reaches 92 percent of African-American households.
Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief news and digital officer, told The Washington Post, “The future is young, digital and diverse. No one can own all millennials, but we need to own iconic brands that matter to them. Music, humor, gaming, technology, that’s all the currency of this generation. That demographic is only going to grow, be more diverse and be more powerful.”
But this push to diversify is not without potential pitfalls.
First are the viewers, who may wonder how this new, multifaceted Univision will impact the Univision they know, Colón said.
“But so long as they can access their news in Spanish, it shouldn’t affect them. And it may attract their children, and children’s children, who favor English, to its other media offerings,” he said.
But reaching and capturing the attention of millennials or bilennials, is no easy task.
“Second and third generation Latinos are a very heterogeneous group in terms of language competency and preference, national origin, income, education and political affiliations. What this means is that Univision and other Spanish-language outlets will have to dig deeper to understand the complexities of those audiences in order to create content that will resonate with them,” Báez said.
Any acquisition poses a challenge, Colón said. Questions need to be asked including how Univision will benefit from the recently purchased brands; and how will the brands remain true to what makes them popular once they become part of a bigger company, he added.
“It may matter less the amount of acquisitions, and the timing of them, than the ability to arrive at a creative confluence that enhances its TV and digital parts while creating a unity of media,” Colón said.