Univision, the Latino-oriented multimedia powerhouse, agreed to pay $135 million for Nick Denton’s Gawker Media Group in a grueling daylong private bankruptcy auction designed to protect Denton’s company from a Florida jury’s $140.1 million verdict in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.
Univision’s sole rival for Gawker Media, Ziff Davis, the digital publishing and game company that had initially agreed to pay $90 million in June, dropped out of the bidding as the price increased.
Ziff Davis stood to collect a $2.47 million breakup fee as part of its June agreement with Gawker Media.
It will be up to the new owner whether or not to kill the flagship Gawker.com gossip site that has generated buzz and readership over the years, but had ultimately attracted catastrophic litigation from celebrity pro-wrestler and reality television star Terry Gene Bollea (Hogan’s real name) who sued Gawker, Denton and then-editor A.J. Daulerio over the October 2012 publication of a video of Bollea cavorting with the wife of a friend.
Tuesday’s transaction, which must be validated by a federal bankruptcy judge during a hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon, will end Gawker Media’s 14-year existence as a privately-held independent media company, boasting sites covering subjects ranging from sports to technology to automobiles to lifestyle to women’s issues.
Bollea claimed the posting of 103-second edited version of a 30-minute video, nine seconds of which depicted actual sex, violated his privacy and publicity rights, and a jury agreed in March after a two-week trial in St. Petersburg, Fla., circuit court.
Bollea’s lawsuit, possibly along with two others filed in the past year against Gawker, was secretly financed by billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who in May acknowledged that he was backing the lawsuit to retaliate against a now-defunct Gawker Media site, Valleywag, which reported that Thiel is gay and which also published critical articles about Thiel and his associates.
Denton has maintained that the initial Valleywag article was accurate, that Thiel was already widely known to be gay, and that the billionaire was simply abusing his clout to sue a journalistic enterprise out of existence, and thereby undermine the First Amendment, because he didn’t like what it publishes.
The technology site Recode broke the news of the Univision sales agreement, and The Daily Beast confirmed the price. Neither Denton nor Univision commented Tuesday evening on the future of Gawker.com.
Denton, who two weeks ago filed for personal bankruptcy protection against a $10 million award to Bollea out of Denton’s own pocket, said in a statement: “Gawker Media Group has agreed this evening to sell our business and popular brands to Univision, one of America’s largest media companies that is rapidly assembling the leading digital media group for millennial and multicultural audiences.”
Denton added: “I am pleased that our employees are protected and will continue their work under new ownership—disentangled from the legal campaign against the company. We could not have picked an acquirer more devoted to vibrant journalism.”
Univision confirmed the purchase, but didn’t comment further Tuesday night.
It was unclear if Denton would have any further involvement with Gawker Media after the sale is finalized; if Ziff Davis had been the successful buyer, Denton had agreed to stay on as a consultant for two years.
Vivek Shah, Ziff Davis’s chief executive, said in a company memo: “As many of you know, the auction for Gawker Media Group (GMG) was held today and we decided to withdraw once we felt the price and terms exceeded our threshold.
“We pride ourselves on being disciplined acquirers, having consummated 13 successful acquisitions over the past 6 years, and while we would have been excited to add Gizmodo, Lifehacker and a few of the other properties to our portfolio, we’re also happy to collect our breakup fee and move on. We wish Univision and GMG great success in their partnership.”