Mergers and Acquisitions: Why Wall Street Is Watching Media General 

click to enlarge Richmond-headquartered Media General sold the Times-Dispatch Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2012.

Scott Elmquist

Richmond-headquartered Media General sold the Times-Dispatch Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2012.

Media General has been a major regional player since 1940, when ownership of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the News Leader merged. The locally based powerhouse has owned scores of newspapers, television stations and digital media outlets.

The company still is mostly controlled as it has been for decades by the Bryan family, including its current chairman, J. Stewart Bryan. But now it’s up for grabs.

Who knew that the rump end of the company, which shed more than 60 news outlets, including the Times-Dispatch in 2012, would be hotly in play on Wall Street?

Its merger schemes have been noted in the New York Post and throughout digital financial media sites, showing the turmoil sweeping the broadcasting business.

On Sept. 8, Media General thought it had locked up a $2.4 billion deal to buy Iowa-based Meredith Corp., giving the new, Richmond-based company about one third of the nation’s television stations.

Twenty days later, an even bigger suitor, Nexstar Broadcasting Group of Texas, galloped in with a merger offer worth $4.1 billion. It would give the new entity even more television station shares nationally, about 37 percent.

Big institutional shareholders of Media General stock grabbed at the Nexstar gambit, dissatisfied with the low price of the Meredith deal and uninterested in the rack of magazines that would come with it, including Better Homes and Gardens.

In grand tabloid style, the New York Post announced two weeks ago that the Meredith deal was dead, which normally closed-mouthed Media General quickly denied. Nevertheless, the company has hired merger mavens Goldman Sachs Group and Weil, Gotshal & Manges to advise on a deal with Nexstar.

Media General has seen lots of churn in recent years. Slammed by the Internet like most traditional media companies, it unloaded 63 newspapers to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway unit for $142 million in 2012. That was a bargain price that came to about $2.2 million per newspaper.

Concentrating on far more lucrative broadcasting properties, it picked up more stations from Tennessee-based New Young Broadcasting Holding, including Richmond-based WRIC-TV 8, raising its total from 18 to 31 stations.

Next came buying Rhode Island and Texas-based LIN Media for $2.6 billion, shooting the station total to 74 last year.

There’s market pressure for broadcasting companies to bulk up. If they’re larger, they can negotiate better deals retransmitting content from various cable and independent outlets, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Paul Sweeney.

Cable and satellite companies likewise are merging, including AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV and Charter Communications’ purchase of Time Warner Cable.

Financial pundits wonder if there will be yet another play for Media General. Forbes writes that Warren Buffett, who bailed out Media General by buying most of its newspapers and providing a $400 million loan and a $45 million revolving credit facility, might be a factor. Buffett’s company still owns nearly 4 percent of Media General stock. The Sage of Omaha has skin in the game and dislikes hostile takeovers. He might use his clout to back the deal with Meredith, Forbes says.

So far, Media General has managed to keep its headquarters in a shiny metallic building at 333 E. Franklin St. — but at a cost. It shed 75 jobs when it unloaded its newspapers. Another 45 jobs went after the LIN buyout.

For now, odds and the money offer tend to favor Nexstar’s buyout of Media General. If that happens, it could be farewell to Bryan’s corporate role and a hometown brand in Richmond.

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