news 8 months ago

Univision Pursued By Searchlight Capital And Former Viacom CFO Wade Davis

Deadline — Jill Goldsmith

As investors circle Hispanic media giant Univision Communications, former Viacom chief financial officer and investment banker Wade Davis continues in the mix as some new names emerge.

The latest entrant into the process is Searchlight Capital, a private equity firm said to be teaming up with Davis, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Searchlight, with offices in New York, Toronto and London, has an investment in Hemisphere Media, a smaller, publicly-traded Spanish media group previously reported to be involved in the bidding for Univision.

Davis was named Viacom CFO in 2012 after seven years at the company heading up strategic planning and M&A. He was previously a media and tech investment banker. He left when the Viacom-CBS merger closed last December after recently garnering plaudits for bringing Pluto TV into the Viacom fold, considered a prescient deal given the intense industry focus on streaming.

Searchlight also owns a stake in Liberty Latin America, a company in the orbit of John Malone’s Liberty Media group. Malone’s Liberty Global had also considered joining the bidding.

Matt Beake, a spokesman for Liberty Global in London, told Deadline last month, “This is a small investment that Liberty Global Ventures is exploring.” He specified that any transaction would go through Liberty Global Ventures, the investment arm of Liberty Global.

A Univision spokesman declined to comment on a possible sale.

Univision announced plans to explore its options last summer. Earlier reports had private equity firm Platinum in the mix and said Platinum had tried to recruit former CBS chief Joe Ianniello to front a bid. ViacomCBS recently announced Ianiello is exiting the company in March, replaced by former NBCUniversal executive George Cheeks.

Univision has had a rocky road since going private in 2006. It sold itself to a consortium of private equity firms, including Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, Texas Pacific Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners, along with mogul Haim Saban, who controls properties like the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The $13.7 billion deal included the assumption of the company’s $1.4 billion in debt. At that point, it was a thriving media conglomerate bringing in some $2 billion a year in revenue from its broadcast flagship, cable channels, local TV and radio stations, and a music division.

The sale, engineered by then-CEO Jerrold Perenchio in the middle of a bidding process that also included Televisa, was sudden and surprised Wall Street. But it also took full advantage of the go-go market conditions, which were prompting a range of private equity holders to expand their footprints in many sectors of the economy.

Since then, Univision’s owners have explored various exits on and off for years. A planned initial public offering in 2015 was scratched. Ratings suffered from shifts in the television landscape and competition from rival Telemundo. There were layoffs and turmoil in management ranks culminating with a shakeup that saw Vince Sadusky replace CEO Randy Falco.

Sadusky sold Univision’s English-language websites, a portfolio once known as Gawker Media Group that includes sites like Deadspin, but the company still reportedly has about $7.3 billion in debt.

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.