Univision Plans Layoffs at Fusion, Other Business Divisions

Isaac Lee, Univision Chief News, Entertainment & Digital Officer - P 2016
Courtesy of Univision Communications

The Spanish-language media giant will lay off 6 percent of its staff, or between 200 and 250 people.

Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications is laying off between 200 and 250 employees, including many from its Fusion division, which it recently fully acquired after operating it as a joint venture with Disney since 2013. 

The layoffs, amounting to about 6 percent of Univision's workforce, are part of a broader restructuring at the company as it takes steps to position itself as a millennial-targeted media organization. The company, historically a Spanish-language broadcaster, has made a number of digital acquisitions over the last year, including The Onion, The Root and the portfolio of Gawker Media sites. These layoffs come as Univison's digital division, called Fusion Media Group, looks to reduce redundancies and avoid competition between its various digital assets. 

Univision digital, entertainment and news chief Isaac Lee announced the news in a memo, which was provided to The Hollywood Reporter. In it, he noted that Univision's digital assets are "just the building blocks that will allow us to go after larger audiences and advertisers on multiple platforms, something we must do aggressively in these rapidly shifting and challenging digital landscapes."  

Speaking to the Washington Post, which first reported on the layoffs, Lee said that the layoffs would include business and editorial employees across Univision but would not include those who work for Gizmodo Media Group, the network of former Gawker Media sites that Univision acquired in August.

"Constantly adjusting our scale and our processes is a reality of the business we are all in, and is not unique to us," Lee wrote in his memo. "As you have all no doubt read in recent weeks, media companies of all sizes are having to better manage costs and staffing levels. For us, these necessary changes come as we look to strategically bring together several distinct digital media companies into one powerful and nimble digital publishing entity, with many distinct passion points for many distinct, growing groups of readers, listeners and viewers." 

Just last week, the editorial staff of Fusion.net voted to unionize under the Writers Guild of America East. Employees of GMG had previously unionized when they were employees of Gawker Media and Univision assumed their WGA East contract. The Root is also in the process of trying to unionize with the organization. 

In his memo, Lee noted that unionized employees who are part of the restructuring will continue to be represented by WGA East and that Univision would provide laid-off employees with benefits that are in line with the current GMG collective bargaining agreement. 

As part of the restructuring, Fusion.net and TheRoot.com will now be part of the GMG portfolio of sites that is now being overseen by News Corp. veteran Raju Narisetti.

In addition, Fusion's Real Future vertical will become a part of tech site Gizmodo. The Root's editorial team will now report to Dodai Stewart, the newly named editor-in-chief of Fusion, and Donna Byrd will continue as publisher of the African-American culture site. 

GMG is also forming a digital investigative team led by former Gawker editor John Cook, which will serve Fusion.net and any relevant GMG sites. "We expect this unit will add to and complement the impactful, award-winning journalism being done by the investigative team at Fusion," Lee wrote in the memo. 

The Fusion cable network, which Univision launched in partnership with Disney's ABC in 2013, will also be infused with programming from Univision's portfolio of digital brands, which all fall under the Fusion Media Group banner. For example, during the election Fusion aired The Onion Presents: The Iconic Images of Election 2016 special. Lee notes in his memo that Univision has series in development with The Onion's A.V. Club and will look for opportunities to bring such brand as Jalopnik, Jezebel, Lifehacker and Gizmodo to television. 

The media giant, which has been planning an IPO, last week reported a loss of $30.5 million for its third quarter, compared with a year-ago profit of $109.8 million. The latest result included a non-cash impairment charge of $199.5 million "primarily related to the write-down of radio broadcast licenses." Third-quarter operating profit fell from $296 million to $61 million. 

Univision laid off 300 employees, or about 6 percent of its workforce, in 2009, citing an extended recession. Its latest round of layoffs comes after AMC Networks, 21st Century Fox and Discovery Communications have all announced staff reductions this year, in their cases via voluntary buyouts, to cut some costs.