The Onion, Clickhole, A.V. Club Brace for Layoffs

Univision aims to cut 15 percent of staff at Onion Inc., the network of storied satirical and cultural news sites the company oversees.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

When media giant Univision Communications Inc. bought a reported 40-percent stake in Onion Inc. in 2016, executives believed that being funnier would help connect the Spanish-language media company with a millennial audience.  

Now, it looks like Univision may be re-evaluating that strategy.

Multiple sources familiar with the proposal told The Daily Beast that UCI has said it wants to cut 15 percent of current staff across Onion Inc., which include satirical websites The Onion and Clickhole, as well as pop-culture fixture The A.V. Club and food site The Takeout.

According to the sources, UCI is set to begin negotiations with the sites’ editorial union over buyout packages for members of the editorial staff later this month. UCI was hoping to begin buyout negotiations this week, but the editorial union argued that this was virtually impossible because many staff are on vacation as a part of The Onion’s summer hiatus for staff members.

No formal offer has been made yet to the union, though some staff believed that UCI would come in with a less generous buyout package than the package offered to employees at sister sites Gizmodo Media Group.

The Onion’s editorial team is about half the size of GMG’s so many staffers worry that a 15 percent cut will likely have more serious impact.

The staff reductions are yet another result of Univision’s failed attempt to take the company public.

Over the past several months, Univision has cut staff at GMG, the english-language Fusion television channel, and Univision’s digital news sites. Several top executives at Fusion Media Group—the Univision-owned umbrella company that oversees GMG and Onion Inc brands—left or were forced out.

The moves have been spurred in part by anxious shareholders who had hoped for an earlier and more lucrative exit.

Sources familiar told The Daily Beast that Univision has cooled on the idea of cutting a reported 35 percent of the company’s budget, settling instead for buyouts. Increasingly, UCI executives are interested in spinning off Fusion Media Group, or selling other parts including Onion Inc.

It’s unclear who would buy Univision’s digital assets, though some names have been circulated in recent reports.

Vanity Fair reported earlier this year that several companies including Penske Media Corporation and IAC—which owns technology and media companies including The Daily Beast and Tinder—have expressed interest.

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Cable news mogul John Malone, who attempted to buy Univision last year, also hinted last month that he still sees value in a Spanish-language property like Univision, but suggested it was probably not worth the price tag.

Other big names have expressed interest in the past. Tech mogul and recently outspoken media critic Elon Musk offered to buy The Onion several years ago, but several sources told The Daily Beast that those talks never progressed to a serious phase.

For now, staff remain in-limbo about the future of the sites under Univision’s ownership.

Some staffers have felt that the company has been confused about the appeal of The Onion, and have never understood the value of Clickhole. Throughout his tenure, former Univision CEO Randy Falco did not once visit the company’s Chicago offices.

One former Univision executive joked to The Daily Beast that UCI seemingly does not differentiate between the Onion Inc. sites, and is “not even sure what Clickhole is.”

When asked during an all-hands meeting with staffers from one site earlier this year what his favorite article was on an Onion Inc. site, Univision’s head of digital Sameer Deen would not answer.