Borrow $1,000 from the bank, and the bank owns you. Borrow $100 million, and you own the bank. This seems to be the mantra for end-of-year finance-maneuverings in the U.S. radio sector. Three companies in particular are making plays:
Clear Channel iHeartMedia: After beating back a default-notice earlier this year by some creditors to whom the company owes more than $20 billion in debt, run up in the post-1996 consolidation and acquisition-frenzy, another lawsuit filed in Delaware accusing iHeart of playing fast-and-loose with debt-swapping between subsidiaries has been dismissed.
This has emboldened the company to seek a further renegotiation of a portion of its debt-payments. In a statement released late last month, iHeart announced that it’s asked some investors for the flexibility to “amend their terms,” according to the Tom Taylor Now newsletter. If iHeart gets consent, it may attempt to revise the interest rates on these debt-notes, or swap the notes down the road for other debt instruments at more manageable terms. One anonymous watcher tells Tom that if the company is successful, iHeart’s “debt wall,” or the point where the company ceases to be able to make adequate payments on what it owes, might be pushed back “until at least 2018, maybe 2019.” Continue reading “Radio Stocks Spice Books for Year's End”
Revisiting a subject from three years ago: the health of U.S. radio by the FCC’s broadcast station totals. Published quarterly, these figures over time show the relative growth of station-classes, and trends especially over the last couple of years are quite eye-opening.
What sparked my interest was a celebratory missive from FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake released last week. Having completed two filing-windows this year allowing AM radio stations to acquire FM translators, Lake says they’ve been a “resounding success” – nearly 1,100 translators changed hands, and the FCC has already signed off on the vast majority of these deals.
The chart above tells the tale, tracking station-counts over the last 25 years. As of this year, FM translator and booster stations now comprise the largest segment of licensed radio stations in the country, both in raw numbers and percentage. Continue reading “Translators Now Constitute the Largest Number of U.S. Radio Stations”
Although iHeartMedia’s dance with bankruptcy is widely seen as a key indicator of the health of the radio industry more broadly, that company is not alone in reconfiguring its approach to finance capital. Two other conglomerates are also making moves — one trying to leave the stock-trade behind while another wants to jump back into those waters.
First up is Emmis Communications: the Indianapolis-based company has been hammered in the stock market over the last few years, threatened with delisting by NASDAQ after its stock dropped below $1 per share in 2015. After conducting a reverse-stock split earlier this year (reducing the number of shares in circulation, thereby inflating the price of remaining shares) which brought the company back into compliance, company founder and CEO Jeff Smulyan has announced a $46 million bid to take the company private. Continue reading “More Radio Industry Market-Maneuvering Afoot”
A funny thing happened just hours after I posted last week’s update on iHeartMedia’s dance with bankruptcy earlier this year: I got an e-mail from a PR flack contesting my analysis. But it wasn’t just any flack — it was Wendy Goldberg, iHeart’s chief communications officer. She was displeased with several points I made.
To begin, Goldberg asserted that I had misconstrued the timeline of events surrounding the company’s near-default. Instead, iHeart conducted a pre-emptive strike against “a small group of lenders” who planned to call in some $6 billion of the company’s $20+ billion outstanding debt burden within 60 days. (This would indeed have immediately tipped the company into default.) Secondly, my she called my assertion that this close call, in my words, worried “the market that the conglomerate is just steps away from bankruptcy” was seemingly, in her words, “confused at best, and speculation at worst.”
Finally, Goldberg took umbrage with my contention that iHeartMedia remains near the precipice: “I am assuming this is your own opinion or speculation, and if so you should either couch it as such or remove it.” Continue reading “iHeartMedia's Thin Skin on Corporate Finances”
After fending off one legal challenge that would’ve sent the company into default, the nation’s largest radio conglomerate now seeks a spot of revenge.
iHeartMedia is heading back to a Texas courtroom in hopes of getting mega-damages out of a consortium of investors who went after the company, serving a notice of default for playing fast and loose with its $20+ billion worth of debt — a strategy which involves iHeart setting up shell companies to repurchase some of the debt it already owes at lower interest rates, while also working to shield some assets from potential creditors. The conglomerate filed suit to stop the default process, and the Bexar County judge sided with iHeart in May. Continue reading “iHeartMedia Seeks Pounds of Flesh for Bankruptcy Pressure”
iHeartMedia’s lawyers are probably very happy to see May in their rearview mirrors, after dodging a bullet in a Texas courtroom last week. A friendly judge barred the company’s creditors from seeking notices of default on some $6 billion of iHeart’s $21 billion in corporate debt, racked up primarily from pillaging the radio industry over the last 20 years.
iHeart’s creditors were attempting to call out the company for constructing a shell game in an attempt to keep its debt from crushing it. They noticed last year that the company had begun transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to two “independent” subsidiaries named Broader Media and CC Finco. In simple terms, having already borrowed tens of billions against hundreds of stations, thousands of billboards, and countless other media ventures, iHeart moved some of those assets to “new” corporate parents, thereby creating “new” value against which to borrow even more money. Even better, this shuffle protected those assets against existing debt claims. Continue reading “iHeartMedia Dodges Bankruptcy, Option Remains”
Listeners to at least three radio stations and one (unidentified) radio network got quite an earful last week when their programming was hijacked by an unknown hacker. The intruder, who used a search engine of internet-connected devices to find unprotected audio transfer equipment in radio stations/networks’ airchains, was able to compromise several of them because the targeted stations/networks either never changed the equipment’s default password, or they used a weak password that was easily bypassed.
The hacked stations all broadcast episodes of a comedy podcast devoted to furries, a subculture of people who like to dress up (and oftentimes, have sex) in animal costumery. “FurCast” is defintiely not-safe-for-work material, and the stations spent more than an hour airing them. According to the podcast’s producers, they noted a spike of “hundreds of connections” in podcast-download traffic last week, all of which were coming from hacked radio stations/networks, and were able to cut off the OTA simulcasts by changing the IP address from which podcast downloads originate. Continue reading “When Will They Learn: Several Radio Stations + One Network Hijacked”
The nation’s #1 radio broadcast conglomerate stands another step closer to defaulting on nearly $21 billion of IOUs racked up during its consolidation and conglomeration spree of the last twenty years. For those just tuning in, iHeartMedia owes nearly $1.4 billion in debt payments between now and 2018, with nearly $200 million of that due this year.
The company announced a curious plan in late 2015 to ask some of its debt-holders to swap existing debt for stock, the idea being to try and retire the pressing debt first and keep the fiscal ship afloat. In practice, iHeart began shifting some of its assets into a subsidiary named Broader Media, which is effectively a subsidiary holding company within iHeart itself. Those who agreed to swap their debt in iHeart would get paid back in Broader Media equity. Continue reading “iHeartMedia's Debt Dance Intensifies”
Much interesting news on the iHeartMedia front already in the new year. The wildly overleveraged conglomerate ended 2015 with an announcement that it hoped to convince some of its shareholders to swap debt they hold against the company for stock. It’s assumed iHeart is still on track to try and float this proposal later this spring.
However, it would seem that some shareholders would like to take matters into their own hands. Just days after iHeart announced its swap-plan, the New York Post reported that several large stockholders planned to pressure the company to devote nearly $200 million this month toward debt reduction. This would shave off less than 1% of the $21+ billion the company owes, though it would be a small step toward ameliorating what one unnamed banker calls “clearly not a sustainable capital structure.” Continue reading “iHeartMedia Facing Reorganization Pressures”
Many industry-watchers have been fixated on the travails of Cumulus Media, which ousted its founding family earlier this year and replaced them with new management backed by the private-capital firms that now control the company. It hasn’t yet resulted in a massive turnaround for Cumulus stock, which is up about ten cents or so from its lowest low earlier this fall. Still, that values the country’s second largest radio conglomerate at a paltry $82 million and change — you can now pick up a few shares of Cumulus for a dollar and still have change left over for a gumball.
But Cumulus is not the only company now trading under a buck. There’s also Emmis Communications — the primary driver behind the NextRadio application and a major innovator in the HD Radio space — whose shares are now trading at just 62 cents, triggering a delisting warning from NASDAQ. Just three months ago, Emmis stock was worth $1.42 per share; a decade ago, the stock was worth 100 times more than it is today. Continue reading “Radio Stocks on the Dollar Menu”