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Why would Univision hook up with The Onion?

The Onion
Source: The Onion

At first glance, satirical site The Onion and Univision don't seem like a perfect match. But as Univision seeks to expand ahead of its rumored IPO, it believes the digital media publication's brand of satirical humor may be what it needs to reach the coveted millennial market — both online and on TV.

"(The Onion) has the kind of brand equity that has been able to adapt to the changes in the media that it seeks to satirize," said Daniel Eilemberg, chief digital officer and senior vice president at Fusion, a digital and TV entity that is a joint venture between ABC and Univision. "It's that kind of brand loyalty and brand value, combined with a pretty exciting company, that is increasingly becoming important to Univision and Fusion."


On Tuesday, Univision announced that it purchased a 40 percent stake in The Onion for an undisclosed amount. The Onion's CEO, Mike McAvoy, said in an employee memo that he was impressed with Univision's "editorial-first" mindset and believed the acquisition would give The Onion the ability to expand.

For Univision, The Onion offers potential for growth as well. Sources say Univision is gearing up to take full ownership of its main millennial play, Fusion, away from ABC. To do so, Univision wants Fusion to have strong presence both on digital and linear platforms, especially among English-speaking audiences.

According to the latest U.S. Census, 65 percent of the 52 million Hispanics living in the country are between the ages of 18 to 34. Unlike previous generations, many are bilingual or English-first. A 2012 Pew Research Center study shows that by the second generation, more than 90 percent of Hispanics speak or read English "very well."

Eilemberg, who helps lead strategy for Univision's English-speaking properties and gave CNBC.com an exclusive interview, said the media company plans to keep The Onion's editorial team in place, but it is looking to tap into its young audience. It means looking for opportunities to work with The Onion within Fusion's digital properties as well as a strong likelihood that the digital media publication will get a TV show on the Fusion cable channel.


"Comedy has always been an important part of our strategy," Eilemberg said. "We understand that it is the common currency of this generation, and this can be a powerful way of connecting with young audiences."

The network currently airs "The Chris Gethard Show," a talk show based off a live show from New York City improv studio Upright Citizens Brigade, as well as "No, You Shut Up!," a talk show created by the former executive producer of "The Daily Show" featuring a human host and a panel of puppets.

This won't be the first time The Onion has been on television. "The Onion News Network" had a two-season run on cable outlet IFC in 2011 before being canceled. Since then, it's expanded into many original and sponsored digital series.

And, this isn't the first time Univision is attempting to bring a digital publication to television. Last May, Univision purchased African-American media company The Root. Later, in October, it announced Fusion was developing TV programming with the publisher set to debut in 2016.

What also makes The Onion special is its ability to target its captivated millennial audience, said George Hammer, senior vice president at Digitas Content Studios. The digital agency has worked with The Onion's in-house advertising agency, Onion Labs, for clients like Lenovo and Tide to make custom content.

He added that comedy is one of the few "universal truths" that resonates with most people.

"I think The Onion gives advertisers a way to test new environments," Hammer said. "Say they're not ready to produce something for YouTube or try different things, they partner with the equity of The Onion knowing it's satirical, but it's a way to try new channels as a brand seeks to come across as more personable."

Hammer said that because The Onion is a digital publication, he found that Onion Labs excelled at adapting to the ever-changing nature of the online medium. He also found that the publication's content did extremely well on social media, which is especially important considering Hispanic millennials share online content on social media five times more than non-Hispanic readers per a study by Unilever and Mindshare.

Fusion's Eilemberg confirmed that part of Univision's interest in The Onion was the ability to work with Onion Labs, which he said was a profitable sector of the company.

The Onion confirmed the deal, but declined further comment.