According to reportbacks from the just-concluded NAB Show in Las Vegas, it was a lopsided affair in favor of the future of television. And why not: broadcasters stand to make billions over the next year selling off their spectrum, and those who stay on the air will be rolling out a new digital television standard with new content and datacasting potential.
Meanwhile, the radio industry’s been rocked back on its heels by a slew of bad fiscal news. iHeartMedia, for now, has managed to stave off several billion dollars’ worth of its debt being called in early by angry bond-holders, but the company’s effectively now engaged in increasingly nasty legal maneuvering to decide its debt end-game sooner rather than later. #2 conglomerate Cumulus Media’s still squeezing its broadcast properties also in hopes of keeping bankruptcy at bay. Emmis faces delisting by NASDAQ in early June. Even the relatively fiscally-sound CBS has announced its intent to spin off its entire radio division into a separate company, selling it also seems to be an open option. Continue reading “NAB Show Leaves Radio in Shadows”
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”
Things continue to spiral downward over at Cumulus Media, whose stock closed at 29 cents at the end of trading last week. That put the company’s total market capitalization at just $67.8 million dollars, or just 39% of what the HD Radio system sold for two months ago. NASDAQ has threatened to delist CLMS stock next spring unless it can resume consistent trading above $1.
Perhaps a better comparison might be to a direct competitor: see Townsquare Media, one of the second generation of radio consolidators formed in the last half-decade and now the third-largest owner of radio stations in the country (right behind Cumulus). Townsquare owns about 100-150 fewer stations than Cumulus does, has no holdings in network syndication or distribution companies, but it is making acquisitory forays into online platforms/apps and just three months ago purchased a traveling carinval company. Sound familiar? Only on the surface, because Wall Street valued Townsquare at 106 million dollars last Friday ($10.70/share on 9.94 million shares). Continue reading “Cumulus Meltdown Continues; is iHeartMedia Next?”
The thud heard ’round the industry: Cumulus Media, the second-largest radio station conglomerate in the country, ousted its founders in late September. CEO Lew Dickey has been demoted to a vice chairman, while brother John (an executive vice president) has already cleared out his office.
The move was orchestrated by private equity firms who hold a significant portion of Cumulus’ stock and have not been pleased by the company’s meltdown this year, which has seen its stock price tank by more than 80%, from north of $4 at the beginning of 2015 to 75 cents at the close of trading last week. As I write this, Cumulus’ market capitalization in total is $169.5 million. That’s a valuation more than $1 million less than what DTS bought the HD Radio system for. Think about that: hundreds of stations, a passel of networks, and online properties worth less than a mostly-ignored technology. Continue reading “Cumulus Meltdown: Consolidation Karma”
Next month is the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention, to be held in Atlanta. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in some select panels and the local off-hours watering-holes. Fireworks are expected over an issue that’s been feistily percolating for more than a year — the integrity of the U.S. radio ratings system.
First, a quick primer about radio ratings in the United States. Administered by Nielsen, the ratings are collected by two primary means: listener diaries and Portable People Meters (PPM). The PPM system is a small pager-like device that selected listeners carry around with them; when exposed to a station’s broadcast, the meter logs the station and time spent listening. How? Stations that subscribe to the Nielsen ratings in PPM-enabled markets broadcast a special audio watermark that is inaudible to listeners, but that PPM devices can hear. The watermark is a 1000-3000 Hz tone; as a proprietary technology, the only way to work out how it really operates is by observing it in the wild or by examining its patents.
When the PPM system was introduced in 2007, it was touted as a new era for measuring radio ratings because listeners aren’t all that great about accurately and meticulously recording all the stations they’re exposed to. For example, radio often functions as background noise in places like restaurants, stores, and offices; when you’re at the dentist are you really paying attention to the smooth/lite pabulum oozing from the waiting room ceiling? Today, four dozen markets are measured using PPM technology. Continue reading “Voltair Controversy: The Seduction of Denial”
When the FCC announced the creation of an “AM Revitalization Initiative” in 2013, the proposal included a grab-bag of industry desires, such as the right for AM stations to utilize FM translators and for AM stations to move from hybrid analog/digital broadcasting to the all-digital AM-HD protocol. But to the consternation of industry lobbyists and HD-backers there’s been no movement on this initiative — so now they’re beginning to whine about it.
Case in point is a commentary published in late June by Frank Montero, an attorney at D.C. communications law powerhouse Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, which laments that AM broadcasters are being held hostage without access to FM translators and accuses the FCC of playing political football with the future of AM itself. It’s full of questionable assertions and revisionist history. Continue reading “AM Broadcasters Still Seek Translators, Digital Authorization”
In its latest quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Emmis Communications, the Indianapolis-based broadcast conglomerate who developed the NextRadio/TagStation suite and is a major player in HD Radio, had some interesting things to say about both technologies.
Back in 2013, Emmis inked a deal with Sprint in which broadcasters would pay $15 million a year to Sprint through 2016, in quarterly installments, in exchange for Sprint adding FM receiver chips to some 30 million devices on its network. Emmis has been working with other broadcasters to help shoulder the burden of this deal, but it would seem that industry enthusiasm for the project is coming up a bit short. Specifically (p. 30): Continue reading “Broadcasters to SEC: Digital A Variable Priority”
An interesting disclosure in Cumulus Media‘s yearly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:
On December 21, 2004, we entered into an agreement with iBiquity pursuant to which we committed to implement HD Radio systems on 240 of our stations by June 2012. In exchange for reduced license fees and other consideration, we, along with other broadcasters, purchased perpetual licenses to utilize iBiquity’s HD Radio technology.
That was then…this is now: Continue reading “Cumulus Acknowledges HD Malaise”
This week, Clear Channel (#1 in national radio station ownership) and Cumulus (#2) inked an agreement intimately linking their online broadcast strategies.
Cumulus will integrate the webcasts from its ~560 radio stations under Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming platform, and will actively promote it on-air. In exchange, Clear Channel will cross-promote Cumulus’ SweetJack service, a Groupon-style business the broadcaster is developing in markets where it has stations, both on-air and online. Continue reading “Broadcast Conglomerates Consolidate in Cyberspace”
Nearly a year ago it came to light that radio broadcasters were using FM translator stations as a sort of “back door” to provide more exposure for their HD Radio signals.
Ironically, these translators do not broadcast in digital; rather, many HD-capable radio stations are rebroadcasting their digital-only (“multicast”) programming via analog translator as a way to recoup their investment in a technology which has no meaningful audience.
Some radio conglomerates have purchased or signed lease agreements with FM translator owners to create ostensibly “new” stations in markets around the country in this manner. The practice has caused difficulty for independent broadcasters. Continue reading “FM Translator Abuse Creates Ownership Loophole”