$10 Million Says Hillary Wins Haim Saban wants to put Clinton in the White House and take Univision public.Is one of them Spanish? Univision has never been owned by a native Spanish speaker. Its previous owner was Italian-American Republican Gerry Perenchio.
October 13, 2016
Haim Saban, the billionaire chairman of Univision Communications, America’s largest Spanish-language media company, flew to Jerusalem in his private jet on Sept. 29 to attend the funeral of his friend Shimon Peres, Israel’s former prime minister. It was an event attended by numerous world leaders. Saban gave one of them a lift: former U.S. President Bill Clinton. In Saban’s telling, it wasn’t a big deal. “I called and asked, ‘Are you going to go?’ ” he says, recalling his conversation with Clinton. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’m going.’ I said, ‘I’m going, too. Do you need a ride?’ ” So Saban picked up Clinton and his entourage at a small airport in Teterboro, N.J.
After the funeral, Saban would have been happy to fly Clinton home, but his passenger got a better offer. President Barack Obama invited Clinton to ride back on Air Force One, which idled on the same tarmac as Saban’s jet. Saban channels Clinton looking back and forth between the two planes: “It was like, ‘Air Force One, Saban Air, Air Force One, Saban Air? OK, I’ll go with Air Force One!’ ” Saban says he understood.
Gossip about powerful friends, a lot of uncheckable dialogue, and a punchline—that’s typical Saban. The 72-year-old Israeli-American speaks five languages
and is a gifted storyteller whose ability to entertain has helped him become an almost royal personage in Hollywood. …I saw it about the same year and I thought it was the worst show in the history of television.
Saban, who’s worth $3.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has two targets at the moment. He wants to take Univision public. He and a group of private equity investors bought the network for $12.3 billion in 2007, when it was a solely Spanish-language operation, and have transformed it into a bilingual platform aimed increasingly at young, multiethnic viewers.
His other goal is to elect Hillary Clinton president. It’s something that Saban, a longtime defender of Israel whom the Jerusalem Post recently named the world’s No. 1 “most influential Jew,” has been pushing since 2004. …
Saban’s two crusades are converging in a way that recalls previous windfalls in his career, when he made big, early bets that paid off in both money and clout. The conventional wisdom has been that Clinton can’t win without strong turnout from Hispanic voters, who helped Obama reach the White House twice. Saban’s company boasts that it is “the gateway to Hispanic America” in the U.S., reaching 40 million people in the demographic each month. Since June 2015, when Donald Trump announced his campaign with a pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport millions of immigrants, some of whom he said were rapists, Univision has taken an adversarial stance. Nine days after Trump’s comments, the network canceled its plans to broadcast his Miss USA pageant. Trump filed a $500 million breach of contract lawsuit, alleging Saban was interfering to benefit Clinton. (The suit was settled confidentially.) The next month, Trump had Jorge Ramos, Univision’s leading news anchor, tossed out of a news conference in Iowa when Ramos questioned his immigration policies and ignored Trump’s command to “sit down” and “go back to Univision.” If many English-speaking Americans had until that point been only vaguely aware of Univision, they were now paying attention.
Since then, Univision has co-hosted a Democratic primary debate, sought to register 3 million Latino voters, and promoted a mid-October concert along the U.S.-Mexican border called “RiseUp As One.” The network’s growing influence comes as Saban waits for the right moment to do the initial public offering—a process that has dragged on longer than expected and might play out more favorably under President-elect Clinton than under Trump. Saban says he has nothing to do with Univision’s news coverage, but some Republicans find this hard to believe. “He has been quoted as saying he will do everything in his power to get Hillary Clinton elected,” says Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “I take him at his word.” On Oct. 10, WikiLeaks published hacked 2015 e-mails that show Saban persuading the Clinton campaign to make more of Trump’s anti-Hispanic rhetoric. In another message, on the subject of Univision’s perceived Clinton “boosterism,” Saban wrote: “i NEVER tell our news dep. what to cover.,,,unlike some of my peers.”
Saban lives in one of the Los Angeles area’s exclusive gated communities, high in Beverly Hills … There’s also a poster from the classic Mel Brooks movie The Producers, with the quote “If you got it … flaunt it!”
Like so many of Univision’s viewers, Saban, who speaks English with a heavy accent, has his own immigrant story. He was born in Egypt in 1944. When he was 12 years old, his family was forced to leave after President Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to rid the country of Jews. Saban and his family ended up living in one room next to a bus station in Tel Aviv. He served in the Israeli army, where he says he fought in two wars and was a garbage man and a disciplinarian. “I know,” he says, sitting in front of a large picture window through which you can see the late afternoon sun reddening the lush grounds outside. “You’re looking at me and thinking, ‘You were in charge of discipline?’ Yes, I was.” (It’s so not hard to believe.)
While still in the military, Saban entered the music business. He talked a local band into jettisoning its bass player and took the position himself, even though he couldn’t really play. Saban sometimes performed with his amp turned off until his musicianship improved. In time, Saban became the band’s manager, taking them to London, where they signed with PolyGram Records. … During a visit to Japan in 1984, he saw a spasmodic TV show featuring teen superheroes in candy-colored outfits. To American eyes, it might have looked at best like trash and at worst a seizure risk.
“I thought it was brilliant,” Saban says. “Kids in Spandex battling rubber monsters? It sounds beautiful. It does. I mean, I loved it. What can I say? I don’t know why.”Actually, Saban bought Univision at the top of the market in 2007 when the subprime mortgage bubble had inflated Hispanic prosperity.
He wanted to bring a version of the show to the U.S. It would come to be titled Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But when he showed it to the executives at his production company, they told him he was “deranged,” he recalls. “No, seriously,” he says. “They said, ‘Look, I mean, you’re doing so well. Why in the world would you take a risk of spoiling your reputation with this piece of crap?’ ” …
Afterward, Saban says, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch wanted to buy his production company. “I said, ‘Bubbie, forget about it, I don’t need your money. Let’s create a partnership. You put in the network. I put in my content.’ ” Murdoch, Saban says, told him he was out of his mind—but eventually came to see the appeal. Together they formed Fox Kids Worldwide, a company they hoped would compete with Viacom’s Nickelodeon and Time Warner’s Cartoon Network.
The quickest way to get the network into a lot of homes would be to rebrand an existing channel. Saban targeted televangelist Pat Robertson’s Family Channel, the home of The 700 Club. Mel Woods, Saban’s chief operating officer at the time, recalls what transpired next. “Rupert Murdoch had a conversation with Pat Robertson,” Woods says. “The message came back to Haim: ‘They’re not interested.’ Chase Carey [then News Corp.’s co-COO] had a conversation—came back to Haim and said, ‘No, I don’t think they’re interested.’ Haim said, ‘Is it OK if I ask?’ ” Saban and Carey went to dinner with Tim Robertson, the televangelist’s son. “During that dinner, I spoke as a member of the top Fox management, even though I wasn’t,” Saban says. “I said, ‘We’ll give you movies. We’ll give you television shows. We’ll open the vaults. And Chase Carey is sitting there thinking, ‘What the heck is he saying?’ ”
In the end, the Robertsons sold the Family Channel to Saban and Murdoch for $1.9 billion. “I said, ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord,’ ” Saban recalls. …
… Saban contacted Martin Indyk, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton, and told him he wanted to start a think tank devoted to the Middle East. … Indyk suggested that Saban establish his think tank at the Brookings Institution, a D.C. fixture for almost 90 years. Indyk recalls that Saban asked: “What’s Brookings?” That’s true, Saban says now, mocking himself. “Yeah, I didn’t know what Brookings was. Are you guys to the left? Are you to the right? Are you in the center? What are you? What do you do? I don’t know nothing.” He endowed Brookings’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy in May 2002. Its annual forum let its namesake rub shoulders with heads of state from America, Israel, and the Arab world. (It’s now called the Center for Middle East Policy.) …
In 2006, Saban testified before the U.S. Senate about how he, along with several other wealthy businessmen, used an offshore shelter to lower his taxes. He handled it as smoothly as everything else, pleading ignorance. “I am neither a lawyer nor a tax expert, in fact my formal education ended when I finished high school,” Saban said, adding that he was in the process of settling up with the IRS.
Soon after, he and some of the same partners bought Univision. It was the most popular TV network among American Hispanics, the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group, who devoured the network’s prime-time telenovelas, soapy dramas often about life in rural Mexico. The shows were produced south of the border by Televisa, Mexico’s largest TV company. It was lucrative for Univision, which was buying content produced for pesos and collecting ad revenue in dollars.
Univision also had a genuine bond with its audience, many of whom were new immigrants. Unlike many English-speaking viewers, who DVR’ed shows and bypassed ads, Hispanics tended to watch live. They also seemed to trust Univision more than the U.S. government. “They call us to find out where to send their kids to school, what the best hospitals are to send their kids if they get sick,” says Randy Falco, Univision’s CEO. “They’ve actually called us when their houses are on fire.”
If the value of a Latino-focused media company seems obvious now, Saban gets credit for realizing it a decade ago.
He was similarly ahead of the curve on the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton, whom he encouraged to run in 2004. She demurred and then lost the Democratic primary in 2008 to Obama. Saban was devastated, refusing to write Obama checks for the general election. “It took me a couple of years to heal, because I was so passionate about Hillary,” he says.Like I said …
Things weren’t going much better at Univision. When the financial crisis struck in 2008, advertising revenue plummeted, and Univision took a $3.7 billion write-down that year.
… Last year, Univision purchased The Root, a website aimed at African American audiences co-founded by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. In January it bought the Onion’s satirical empire. And in August it won an auction for Gawker Media, whose flagship website was known for scabrous takedowns, one of which led to a courtroom loss and bankruptcy. …
Not everybody believes Univision’s strategy to court millennials regardless of language will pay off. Some analysts suspect that Saban is just trying to pretty up the profitable but heavily indebted Univision for the IPO. “They did it to get a higher [price] multiple,” says Harold Vogel, a New York-based media analyst. “It was going to make them cool and sassy and, you know, attractive to the market. And I’m saying, wait a minute, there’s nothing there.”
If Saban and his partners do take Univision public—the company notified the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of its intent a year ago but hasn’t yet set a date—they may already have a buyer for a significant block of shares. Last year, Univision disclosed that it had a plan to enable Televisa, which now owns almost 10 percent of the company, to increase its position to as much as 40 percent. But that would require the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, which must review any proposal to raise foreign ownership of a U.S. broadcast company beyond 25 percent. To pull this off, Saban needs a supportive administration in Washington. “Hillary is more likely to bless any expansion of foreign ownership between the two than Trump is,” says veteran media analyst Porter Bibb. “If Trump should win, Jorge Ramos really is dead in the water. I think Trump would probably figure out a way to ban him from the airwaves.” …
At his Beverly Hills home, Saban says he’s not looking for anything if Clinton is elected—not even a chance to be a back channel between the White House and the Israeli government, as some have speculated. “I will tell you exactly what I want,” he says. “And no one in the world, be it the president of the United States or the prime minister of Israel or whomever, can give me that. Only I can give me that. I just want to be Haim Saban. That’s all. I don’t want to change anything in my life.”
Trump is the candidate of change, Hillary is the candidate of stasis. Not surprisingly, roughly 98% of everybody who is on top of the world under the current Invade the World / Invite the World arrangements favors Hillary.[Comment at Unz.com]