Updated with Univision statement: A week after most of the staff at Univision’s Fusion.net voted to join the Writers Guild of America, the company announced sweeping layoffs that could hit the English language service hardest.
Univision said today that it will undergo a restructuring. That could slash as many as 250 positions, accounting for nearly 6% of its workforce, it told The Washington Post.
“Constantly adjusting our scale and our processes is a reality of the business we are all in, and is not unique to us.” Chief News, Entertainment & Digital Officer Isaac Lee said in a memo to staffers.
The cuts “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.”
Fusion Media Group will see most of the changes.
Univision is holding “active conversations about the role the Fusion tv network will play next year,” Lee says. That could include developing shows around “the well-known and recognized FMG digital brands.”
The restructuring will add fusion.net and TheRoot.com to the Gizmodo Media Group, which Univision bought in September.
Fusion will be “a hub for some our investigative work,” while The Root “complements that work with a strong, passionate editorial voice for the African-American community.” Both will report to Fusion’s Editor-in-Chief Dodai Stewart. They will “maintain their respective independent voices, but will work more closely and will continue their important common mission of championing stories that matter to a young and diverse America.”
Gizmoto’s John Cook will run a digital investigative team, as Univision begins to look for a new Editor-in-Chief at GMG.
Fusion.net is the second Univision digital site to seek union representation in the past few weeks. Last month, the editorial staff of TheRoot.com asked the guild to represent them. Gawker Media already has a contract with the guild that’s expected to be a template for other digital sites.
The changes also follow a year of declining ratings at Univision, and a Q3 report that showed drops in ad sales and a $199.5 million write-down primarily to account for the diminishing value of the company’s radio properties.
Univision wound up with a $30.5 million loss in Q3, down from a $109.8 million profit last year, with $734.8 million in revenues, down 8.3%.
CEO Randy Falco told investors at the privately held company that he is “ardently” working to revive the ratings, and plans to replace some of the prime time novelas with live programming.
The company attributed the 9.1% drop in ad sales at its Media Networks unit to competition from the Olympics and a shift of dollars to later in its broadcast season.
Univision says, in a statement, that it regularly makes “adjustments to ensure we are nimble and best positioned to continue investing in Univision’s growth.” It expects to add “new positions to support strategic growth areas that will allow us to be better poised to serve our diverse audiences across platforms and meet the needs of our partners.”
Here’s the message Lee sent today to the staff:
As we head toward the end of 2016, a momentous year on so many fronts, I want to talk about what we have already accomplished and what we are now setting out to do at Fusion Media Group.
Today, FMG is already one of America’s leading digital publishers, with the addition of GMG we reached over 73 million unduplicated monthly unique visitors in September (not including our extended network). We got here by building on the success of Univision.com, the #1 most visited Spanish-language website for US Hispanics; the creation, growth, and successes of FUSION, which was Univision’s first English-language effort and the key driver for us to aggressively pursue a younger, more diverse audience in both English and Spanish; acquisition of The Root, the leading online news, opinion, and culture destination for African-Americans; our stake in The Onion and its stable of sites; and the September acquisition of Gizmodo Media Group and the recognized brands of its six category-leading journalism platforms. In addition, we have the FUSION cable network as a powerful platform and the backbone of our ambitions.
Despite our size, what we have today 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. We need to constantly make sure we have the right mix and level of talent for this journey that we are on, making sure we are being efficient and streamlined in how we manage and use all our resources and talents.
I want to talk about some specific changes we are making as we further simplify our organization in coming days:
As we look at the portfolio of brands within the group and how they complement each other, we are making a few strategic changes as well as investments on the editorial front that will position the group for further growth.
We are formally creating a new digital investigative team, which will include several of GMG’s best investigative journalists, to be led by John Cook who will transition to this full-time role by the end of 2016. We expect this unit will add to and complement the impactful, award-winning journalism being done by the investigative team at FUSION, which produces the ‘The Naked Truth’ documentary series. This new digital team, under John’s editing stewardship, will report to Keith Summa and serve fusion.net, our flagship general news site, as well as any other GMG sites, when relevant to their main subject area. This is a significant commitment of dedicated resources, and underscores FMG’s ambition for its sites to also be the preeminent destinations for thorough, powerful and deeply reported investigations. As John transitions to this new role, GMG will soon launch a search for a new Editor in Chief for the broader group.
We are also bringing fusion.net and TheRoot.com together under the broader GMG family of sites. In addition to serving as a hub for some our investigative work, fusion.net will focus its efforts by doubling-down on its award-winning reporting on issues of social justice and diversity. The Root complements that work with a strong, passionate editorial voice for the African-American community. To increase collaboration, The Root’s editorial team will now report to Dodai Stewart, who was recently named Editor-in-Chief of FUSION, with Donna Byrd continuing in her role as Publisher of The Root. Both sites will maintain their respective independent voices, but will work more closely and will continue their important common mission of championing stories that matter to a young and diverse America.
FUSION’s Real Future vertical will join Gizmodo, our flagship technology offering, avoiding duplication and also benefiting from the audience and scale that Gizmodo already has. Kashmir Hill and the talented Oakland-based Real Future team have made great strides in the past year, and will become part of Gizmodo news team, with Kashmir continuing to play a key leadership role.
Raju Narisetti, who recently joined as CEO of GMG, will help guide these key editorial changes to build on the leadership position of each of our brands with their audiences.
FUSION’s Cable Network & Digital Video
We’ve been having active conversations about the role the FUSION tv network will play next year, including strengthening and expanding our programming strategy by creating programming around each of the well-known and recognized FMG digital brands. Jorge Ramos will continue with his fearless journalism, holding the powerful accountable and reporting on the issues our young, diverse audience cares about. The new programming will also supplement many of our existing franchises including ‘The Chris Gethard Show’ and ‘The Naked Truth,’ among others. You saw an early example of this with ‘The Onion Presents: The Iconic Images of Election 2016’ special. We have a series in development with The A.V. Club and believe there are several really interesting opportunities to extend brands, such as Jalopnik, Jezebel, Lifehacker and Gizmodo, into television. We continue to build FUSION’s cable network to be the home of our digital brands, leveraging their massive digital audience and social reach, while giving them exposure on TV and taking advantage of the significant linear television revenues we have.
Video is core to our business–and increasingly vital to both our readers and audiences–so we plan to scale and ramp up video production across all 11 sites. We are going to streamline our video production operations across FMG, allowing us to leverage shared expertise while crafting editorial strategies that fit each site’s distinct voice. Jigar Mehta will take on an expanded role coordinating these efforts.
Daniel Eilemberg will continue to oversee all our TV, video and the recently announced podcast efforts.
Technology & Product
In Kinja, which we acquired as part of the Gizmodo Media Group, we have a uniquely nimble publishing platform that works very well for both our journalism as well as our e-commerce, without compromising speed, audience engagement or data security. All of our FMG sites will now be transitioning to Kinja over the next 18 months, starting immediately with The Root. We are also making sure Kinja’s capabilities are further expanded with new editorial and advertising templates, along with significant video options. Chief Technology Officer Mark Kortekaas will be leading this effort, working very closely with our talented tech team leaders across the portfolio. Sales Last month we began the journey of centralizing all our digital revenue and ad sales efforts across our 11 English-language brands. Mike McAvoy, who will continue to serve as CEO of Onion Inc, will oversee these efforts including general sales, programmatic sales, branded content and e-commerce efforts. The scale and reach of our authoritative consumer brands will allow us to be leaders within our industry counterparts and with the increasingly powerful advertising businesses of Facebook, Google, and other platforms.
As we look to build and scale our portfolio of brands, we will be focusing on creating new business opportunities that can help us grow and diversify revenues including through international expansion, content licensing and syndication, distribution on new platforms and services, and events, across FMG. Boris Gartner will be leading these efforts.
Rise Up – Social Impact
We are a group built on the premise of standing for diversity and championing a society where all voices and perspectives are heard. This is more important now than ever. The Rise Up team will develop projects with key social impact themes around youth, cultural identity, social justice, and equality across FMG. The Rise Up team will centralize our relationships with foundations, non-profits, and corporate CSR departments, and will ensure an effective execution of the campaigns it develops and the fulfillment of both FMG’s and the partners intended goals. Boris will oversee these efforts working closely with Chad Boettcher.
As part of the editorial shifts of fusion.net and The Root into the GMG family, all represented digital editorial employees at fusion.net will continue to be represented by the WGA East, and we are in the process of addressing the request for representation by the digital editorial employees at The Root. The current WGA collective bargaining agreement covering the digital editorial employees at the sites we originally acquired under GMG will continue to be in effect.
Unfortunately, as a result of some of these changes, and along with a broader streamlining of operations across Univision, some positions across FMG’s business, operations, and editorial teams are being eliminated. Constantly adjusting our scale and our processes is a reality of the business we are all in, and is not unique to us. 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.
Colleagues whose roles were affected by the changes will receive transition benefits that are in line with the company’s continued commitment to support our employees; it is also consistent with the benefits provided for under the current GMG collective bargaining agreement. If you have questions or concerns during the day, do not hesitate to ask your manager or respective HR lead.
Our success rests on a relentless commitment to our audiences and its needs, faithfulness to our core journalism principles and mission, and recognition that the talents of our team are the dominant assets of our business. This reorganization will help our team members collaborate more productively and position us for the exciting new opportunities that we seek together.
I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built and couldn’t be more excited about what the future brings for Univision and FMG. Thanks to our journalists, our brands have unmatched reach and influence among young, coveted audiences, which are passionate and extremely loyal. We have the smartest executive team in the industry, and the right vision and strategy. This talent–and now our ability to execute with agility–is what will continue to set us apart from the rest.