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Updates From Our Most Innovative Companies

Univision reaches out to English-speaking audiences, Yelp becomes more actionable, and more.

Updates From Our Most Innovative Companies


Within the next three decades, minorities will become the majority in the U.S.—and 60-year-old Univision, currently the fifth-largest broadcast network in the country, wants to be at the center of their conversations. "The same role that we have played for the Hispanic community, we will play for the America that is coming next," says Isaac Lee, Univision’s chief news and digital officer.

Tough questions: Anchor Jorge Ramos is part of Univision’s strategy to attract new viewers.Photo: Charles Ommanney, Getty Images

Having locked in Latino viewers through its Spanish-language channels, Univision is now using its newly established Fusion Media Group to reach English-speaking millennials of different ethnicities. Along with the three-year-old Fusion television channel, home to the high-profile America With Jorge Ramos, the group’s collection of properties includes the satirical news site The Onion (as well as sister properties The A.V. Club, StarWipe, and ClickHole) and The Root, focused on African-American news and pop culture. Both sites were acquired within the past year; together, they’ve helped Univision grow its digital footprint since January 2015 to 70 million unique monthly visitors. In May, Univision announced the launch of an L.A.-based bilingual production arm called Story House. Its goal: Create content that can live on Univision’s properties and elsewhere. In the works are a Hate in America special hosted by Ramos, which has been picked up by HBO, and a series about Mexican drug lord El Chapo that will be available on Netflix next year. "It’s always scary to make bets," says Lee. "But if you’re not willing to find new avenues, you will lose the race."

Milestones Following last year’s run-in between Ramos and presidential candidate Donald Trump, Univision has launched a "Vote for Your America" series of events and a digital election guide.
Challenges Despite prominent acquisitions of shows from comedian Chris Gethard and online news network The Young Turks, Fusion is still a losing venture, costing the company $17.8 million in 2015.
Buzz Positive

Illustration: Mike McQuade


In the face of stiff competition from companies like Facebook and Google—and a year after rumors of its sale—crowdsourced-review pioneer Yelp is fighting back. In May, it reported its best earnings since going public in 2012 (an event that had been followed by a string of quarterly losses), driven by 34% year-over-year advertising growth. With a total of 121,000 businesses now signed as partners, Yelp is focused on taking advantage of what it does best—connecting users with local businesses—to enable deeper interactions. "Consumers are coming to Yelp and they’re making these decisions, but why do we want to just stop at the decision point?" says CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. "Why not let them finish what they’re trying to do?" In the past year, transactions between consumers and businesses via Yelp rose 150%. This achievement was due to a revamped feature called Request a Quote that lets users receive estimates for home services from multiple businesses, along with the company’s fast-growing SeatMe and Eat24 services, which allow people to make restaurant reservations and order directly from 30,000 local eateries, respectively. Meanwhile, with 70% of Yelp searches now taking place on mobile, the company has made the app experience more fluid, largely abandoning banner ads in favor of the kind of targeted local advertising that’s fueling revenue growth. "[We’re thinking]: How can we set this up so consumers understand what they’re supposed to do and business owners are excited to reply?" says Stoppelman. "I think there is a really big opportunity there."

Milestones Yelp is working with Congress on two bills that will protect consumers from being sued for negative online reviews.
Challenges A forthcoming documentary, Billion Dollar Bully, accuses Yelp of pulling positive reviews for businesses that stop advertising with it.
Buzz Positive


Milestones The money-transfer service saw 154% year-over-year growth in payment volume in Q1 2016, spurred by new social features and multi­factor authentication that made the platform more fun—and secure—for millennial users.
Challenges In its last SEC filing, parent company PayPal disclosed that Venmo was under investigation for "deceptive or unfair practices."
Buzz Neutral


Milestones The video-game maker’s acquisition of streaming e-sport service Major League Gaming is paying off: The live broadcast of the company’s Counter-Strike championship hit 1.6 million concurrent views, a new record.
Challenges The YouTube trailer for the newest Call of Duty game earned more than 2.5 million dislikes as fans reacted to the decision to take the typically earthbound gameplay to outer space.
Buzz Positive

The College Board

Milestones In an effort to deliver fairer testing standards, the College Board introduced an SAT that no longer subtracts points for wrong answers and features an optional writing section.
Challenges A report from Reuters found that the College Board has downplayed issues of cheating, especially in Asia, where test-prep companies keep finding ways to get questions in advance.
Buzz Negative


Milestones After exposing a fuel-economy cheating scandal at Mitsubishi, Nissan agreed to bail out its longtime manufacturing partner for $2.2 billion. Nissan will control one-third of Mitsubishi shares and gain a larger foothold in the South Asian market, where Mitsubishi is a popular brand.
Challenges Taking on the burdens of Mitsubishi will be no small task as the scandal-plagued automaker may face penalties from regulators in Japan.
Buzz Negative

Elisabeth MossPhoto: Tibrina Hobson, Getty Images


Milestones A new feature will allow Hulu’s 9 million users to live-stream broadcasts next year, with Disney and Fox as likely partners. The company is also pushing further into original content, with a 10-episode adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, starring Elisabeth Moss, due in 2017.
Challenges Hulu’s collection of on-demand partners is starting to show signs of fraying: The Criterion Collection will soon leave to launch a stand-alone streaming service with Turner Classic Movies.
Buzz Positive

First Solar

Milestones In February, the clean-energy company announced that its new cadmium telluride solar panels surpassed their more popular silicon competitors in efficiency. In lab tests, First Solar found its panels can convert 22% of sunlight into electricity, compared with silicon’s 16% to 18% conversion rate.
Challenges Though First Solar generated $3.6 billion in net sales in 2015, silicon-based photovoltaics still account for 95% of the market. With its new super-efficient panels still several years away from production, the company may have a hard time persuading customers to switch.
Buzz Positive


Milestones With 700 million individual users on its WeChat app, Tencent has now turned to corporate clients: In April, it launched Enterprise WeChat, a Slack-like cloud-based collaboration tool for companies that also tracks leave days and expense reports.
Challenges The tech giant recently stopped sub-sidizing bank fees incurred by WeChat Pay users, a strategy that was costing Tencent millions of yuan per month, but helped it compete against rival Alipay.
Buzz Neutral

Photo: Flickr user Hunter Desportes


Milestones The urban-farming enterprise opened a new site outside D.C. and a Chicago-adjacent location launches this summer; 15 more farms are set to open by 2019.
Challenges Greenhouse farms face criticism that their facilities are more energy intensive than traditional ones, an assessment that led BrightFarms to invest in clean-energy offsets.
Buzz Positive

A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.

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