Big city newspaper publishing and broadcasting are the hallmark of Tribune Co. The Chicago company's portfolio includes 23 television stations and daily newspapers in eight markets. It also holds stakes in Food Network LLC and CareerBuilder LLC.
Tribune values the TV station portfolio at $2.85 billion. A large chunk of the value resides in WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles and hometown station WGN. Given the revived interest in TV M&A, Tribune's portfolio would certainly receive attention if the company's new hedge fund ownership decided to pursue sales.
The newspapers are trickier. Eli Broad reiterated his interest in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. The company also owns the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-area Sun Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, the Hartford Courant, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., and the Daily Press, in Newport, Va. For over a decade, Tribune has emphasized ownership of newspapers and TV stations in single markets. It's an alchemy that hasn't exactly produced gold.
The company has been willing to break up its urban pairings. Tribune sold Newsday to Cablevision Systems Corp., retaining a 3% stake for tax purposes, for a sale price of $650 million. The price illustrates how much has changed during Tribune's bankruptcy. Today, the company values its entire newspaper portfolio at a mere $623 million. Tribune still owns newspaper and television assets in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Hartford, Conn. It owns a Philadelphia television station and a paper in Allentown, which Nielsen Co. groups in the same designated market area.
Valuing a newspaper is a nuanced proposition. The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune may be trophies, but Tribune's other papers don't fall in the same category. Vanity may be the strongest motivator for newspaper buyers. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News sold this year for $55 million. Transactions with public price tags have been scant. New York Times Co. trades around 4.5 times 2012 Ebitda, as projected by UBS Investment Research.
The Los Angeles Times, according to Tribune's monthly operating reports to the bankruptcy court, had $537 million in revenue over the year ended March 25, excluding international revenue. Operating profit came to $55 million. Backing out depreciation and amortization suggests Ebitda of nearly $70 million. Applying the New York Times future multiple of 4.5 times Ebitda would put a sale price in the area of $315 million.
Tribune's stakes in the Food Network, CareerBuilder and similar ventures are worth nearly $2.3 billion, the company estimates. They are attractive assets, but because they are partnerships, Tribune's ability to liquidate them would be limited. Unlike newspapers, which have shown eroding value, cable and digital properties don't have an urgency to sell.
|Tribune's 12 years of woe|
|Tribune Co. dates to 1847, though some of its mastheads (the Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun, founded in 1764 and 1837, respectively) have even older pedigrees. Over the past dozen years, the media group's corporate and capital structures have undergone dramatic changes, driven by the merger with Times Mirror Co., Sam Zell's leveraged buyout and the company's epic bankruptcy, which is approaching its fourth anniversary.|
|March 13, 2000||Tribune and Times Mirror announce an $8 billion merger valuing the latter at 10.5 times 2000 Ebitda.|
|June 12, 2000||Tribune and Times Mirror complete their merger.|
|February 2006||Trusts held by the Chandler family, which controlled Times Mirror, criticize Tribune's board over stock performance and push for a strategic review.|
|May 30, 2006||Tribune announces a leveraged recapitalization in which it would buy 75 million shares worth more than $2 billion. The company also pledges to sell assets worth $500 million and to cut $200 million in costs. The McCormick Tribune Foundation and Cantigny Foundation support the plan.|
|June 13, 2006||The Chandler family declares in a letter to the board that the company's "strategy has failed," noting a 38% decline since management's appointment of Dennis FitzSimons as CEO in early 2003. The family urges bolder actions such as a breakup or seeking a private equity sponsor for the TV business.|
|Sept. 21, 2006||Tribune's board forms an independent special committee to oversee a strategic review, targeting a conclusion in late 2006.|
|April 2, 2007||Tribune says it will go private through an employee stock ownership plan engineered by Zell, which values the company's equity at more than $8 billion and would leave its balance sheet with more than $13 billion in debt. The company markets the Chicago Cubs and a sports network for sale.|
|Dec. 20, 2007||The Zell LBO closes.|
|Dec. 8, 2008||Tribune seeks bankruptcy protection.|
|March 7, 2011||Judge Kevin Carey convenes a hearing on Tribune's reorganization plan and a rival proposal from noteholders. The hearing spans two weeks in March and three days in mid-April. Carey hears closing arguments in June.|
|Oct. 31, 2011||Carey rejects both plans in a 126-page order.|
|June 7, 2012||A hearing on Tribune's revised plan begins.|
|Source: The Deal|