With the sale, Great Hill will form a new company called G/O Media Inc., headed by digital content industry vet Jim Spanfeller, who also will be a “significant investor” in the company. The sale puts an end to Univision’s bid — under then-CEO Randy Falco — to diversify beyond its Hispanic broadcasting core business into what it had hoped would be a fast-growing, young-skewing mass digital play.
Terms of the all-cash deal weren’t disclosed. According to person familiar with the deal, Great Hill is paying considerably less than the $135 million that Univision paid in August 2016 for the Gawker assets in a bankruptcy auction, (which didn’t include Gawker.com). Univision acquired a 40% stake in The Onion in January 2017.
The brands moving from Univision to G/O Media are: Gizmodo (technology), Jalopnik (car culture), Jezebel (described as focused on “modern women’s interests”), Deadspin (sports), Lifehacker (life tips and hacks), Kotaku (gaming), Splinter (politics) and The Root (African-American news and culture), as well as The Onion, which includes its flagship satire publication, entertainment outlet A.V. Club, ClickHole and The Takeout. All told, according to the companies, G/O Media’s properties reach about 100 million unique monthly visitors.
Univision had said last summer that it was looking to offload the digital-media assets. With the exit by Falco and appointment of TV veteran Vince Sadusky as Univision’s CEO, the company decided to full return to its focus on Hispanic media and marketing.
“Our aim from the outset of this process was to sell these assets as one,” Sadusky said in a statement. “We are pleased to have found a terrific buyer in Great Hill Partners that is committed to growing these properties.”
The GMG and Onion websites will operate as “independent assets within the Great Hill Partners portfolio,” according to Univision.
A Univision rep said that all employees of GMG and The Onion will be joining G/O Media. A spokesperson for Great Hill didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about whether any layoffs are expected with the change in ownership. According to the Writers Guild of America East, which represents 233 employees at Gizmodo Media Group and Onion, its members will continue to work under union-negotiated terms and conditions with Great Hill’s acquisition.
The Gizmodo Media/Onion collection of assets have “strong brand recognition among consumers and advertisers, and a set of engaged, vertical audiences which together are larger than Vox, BuzzFeed or Vice,” Great Hill managing partner Chris Gaffney said in a statement.
Great Hill Partners’ other media investments have included Ziff Davis, IGN, Momondo Group, Educaedu, Legacy.com, Action Media, All Web Leads (AWL), BuscaPé.com, Recruting.com, Dame Broadcasting, and Palm Beach Broadcasting.
Spanfeller is a former CEO of Forbes.com and past chairman of the IAB. He most recently built a native digital content company (Spanfeller Media Group) whose properties included The Daily Meal and The Active Times; in December 2016, he sold the company to Tribune Publishing Co. (then called Tronc). Prior to joining Forbes.com, he served as president of Ziff Davis Enterprise’s consumer magazine group, publisher of Inc. Magazine, and associate publisher of Playboy Enterprises Publishing Group.
“This opportunity comes at a time when the entire digital media category is beginning to be recognized again for its unique ability to meet the diverse content and delivery needs of consumers and advertisers,” Spanfeller said in a statement. “G/O Media is in an ideal position to capitalize on this dynamic.”
Morgan Stanley served as financial adviser to Univision in connection with the sale. Sidley Austin LLP served as legal adviser to Great Hill Partners.
Separately, Gawker — the flagship site of the former parent company of the Gizmodo Media Group sites — is slated to relaunch this year under Bustle Digital Group. In a bankruptcy auction last year, BDG CEO Bryan Goldberg paid $1.35 million for the media gossip blog, which went dark after Gawker Media was sued into bankruptcy by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel. Bustle Digital Group has hired Dan Peres, formerly Details’ top editor, as Gawker’s editor-in-chief alongside publisher Amanda Hale (formerly with Joshua Topolsky’s The Outline, which BDG bought last month).