This is the biggest of Sinclair’s recent deals to bulk up its TV station portfolio — and it’s one that also will make it a prominent player in Washington. When completed, expected by year end, Sinclair will pick up seven ABC affiliates including Washington DC’s WJLA, and DC’s NewsChannel 8 cable news service. ”To buy a full-blown news operation in our nation’s capital and an infrastructure that allows us to be connected to our branches of government and be at the pulse of national issues is a once-in-a lifetime event,” Sinclair CEO David Smith says. He adds that NewsChannel 8 could also provide a “perfect platform should we decide to expand it into other markets, especially given the amount of local news we produce across our entire portfolio.” If he follows through by creating cable channels in his markets that blend local and national news, then it would create a network that’s “the first of its kind and likely to bring significant synergies,” says Wells Fargo Securities’ Marci Ryvicker. She adds that after the deal, Sinclair stations will reach about 22% of U.S. households. Allbritton Communications CEO Robert Allbritton said in May that he planned to unload the stations to help him build his political news site Politico and “place additional bets on media companies that meet my definition of successful journalistic and business enterprises. Politico continues to carry no debt, funds all investment with operating income and will still turn a profit, again, in 2013. That is the textbook definition of a thriving, sustainable new media company.” Sinclair made it clear that it sees a bright future for broadcasting with acquisitions this year of Fisher Communications and Barrington Broadcasting. Sinclair shares are up 2% in early trading, and are +197% over the last 12 months. Here’s the release about today’s TV station deal with financial details:
Here we go again. Sinclair Broadcast Group has begun to warn DirecTV customers that its 87 stations in 47 markets may go dark on the No. 1 satellite broadcaster after February 28 when their carriage contract expires. “Although DirecTV and Sinclair have been negotiating for quite some time in an effort to reach a new agreement, at this time it does not appear that these efforts will be successful,” Sinclair’s telling viewers in Baltimore. If that’s right, then it could hit Fox especially hard: 24 of Sinclair’s stations are Fox affiliates and another 19 offer Fox-owned MyTV shows. The company also has 12 ABC stations, 16 CW, 11 CBS, 3 NBC, 1 Azteca and 1 Independent affiliate. The arguments will be familiar to anyone who has followed a retransmission consent negotiation:
Newport is Providence Equity’s holding company for the collection of TV stations the private equity firm bought in 2007 from Clear Channel. Investors seem to like Nexstar’s $285.5M agreement today for 12 Newport stations; Nexstar shares are +5.2% at mid-day. Sinclair is more complicated: In addition to the $412.5M it’s paying for six Newport stations, Sinclair agreed today to pay $40M for Tampa-based Bay Television. Sinclair shares are -1.6%. Privately held Cox is paying $302M for its four stations.
Here’s the release:
BALTIMORE, May 15, 2012 — Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: SBGI), announced today that it has entered into an agreement with the Fox Broadcasting Company (FOX) for the renewal of the affiliation agreements for 19 television stations Sinclair owns and/or programs. The new agreements go into effect January 1, 2013 upon the expiration of the existing affiliation agreements and expire December 31, 2017. KFXA-TV, the FOX affiliate in Cedar Rapids, to which Sinclair provides certain non-programming related services, is also renewing its affiliation agreement for the same term.
It will take years before most ad sales will hit the peaks that TV stations saw in 2007, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Carl Salas says this morning in an industry report. Local businesses have been slow to increase their spending after the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009 — and now broadcasters must compete for those dollars against websites, social media, digital displays and other emerging media. Sure, stations will see some extra cash from retransmission consent deals with pay TV providers. But it won’t be a windfall: Major networks are demanding reverse compensation agreements from their affiliates, giving the national broadcasters much of the dough collected by the stations that they used to pay to carry their programs.
Shoppers spent a record $52.4B over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, up 16% from last year, the National Retail Federation says. Add that to reports that European leaders are getting serious about resolving their debt crisis, and it’s easy to see why investors are in such a good mood today. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index is up 2.8% at mid-day, about the same as the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Among Big Media stocks, Time Warner (+4%) leads followed by Sony (+4%), Viacom (+3.7%), Comcast (+3.7%), CBS (+3.4%), News Corp (+3.2%), and Disney (+2%). In the rest of the media universe several companies that have been pummeled in 2011 are taking a breather including Crown Media (+17.7%), Real D (+11.8%), and Netflix (+10.5%). Sinclair Broadcast Group is up 9% after it announced today that it wants to raise its borrowing capacity by $530M, possibly to buy TV stations. Madison Square Garden — which owns the New York Knicks — is up 8.7% after the NBA announced that it will salvage at least part of this year’s basketball season. The short list of companies that are down at midday includes New Frontier Media (-2.8%), Cinedigm (-2.7%) and Westwood One (-1.1%).
Sinclair Broadcasting this morning unveiled third-quarter revenue of $180.8 million, which is down 3% from a year ago but beat Wall Street estimates, and the company used its sold earnings report to announce it has acquired eight TV stations from Freedom Communications for $385 million. The deal marks the second buy for Sinclair in two months after it purchased seven Four Point Media stations in September for $200 million. “It is our intent to continue evaluating television station transactions which are accretive and where we can use our expertise and presence to improve profitability and competitive position,” said Sinclair CEO David Smith. He also predicted that the fourth quarter will see low-teen percent growth in automotive spending as well as an upswing in political advertising revenue as the presidential elections ramp up. The company saw growth in automotive, retail, and schools during the third quarter, while services, media spending, telecommunications, and grocery were down the most. Year-over-year, Sinclair’s income was $19.2 million, or 24 cents a share, compared with $14.3 million, or 18 cents a share. It also today announced a cash dividend of $0.12 per share on the Company’s Class A and Class B common stock.
The bears are back. After a relatively calm week, stocks prices across the board — including in media — are tanking today following reports that point to rising unemployment and inflation, and weakness in manufacturing. An hour before the market close, the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and NASDAQ indexes for media stocks each were down at least 5.4%. Among the Big Media giants CBS is -10.7% followed by Time Warner (-6.1%), Sony (-5.7%), News Corp (-5.2%), Viacom (-5.2%), Comcast (-4.8%), and Disney (-3.2%). Elsewhere on our watch list, Pandora Media (-12.9) is taking the biggest hit with LIN TV -9.4%. Others falling at least 8% include Gannett, Live Nation, Entercom, IMAX, Radio One, McGraw-Hill, and Discovery. Those off at least 7% include Cablevision, Amazon, TiVo, Netflix, McClatchy, Coinstar, Arbitron, and Scripps Networks. And companies down at least 6% include Barnes & Noble, Washington Post, E.W. Scripps, Sinclair Broadcasting, Outdoor Channel, and Dish Network. The only gainers are Lionsgate (+0.3%) and Cinedigm (+1.3%).
Media stocks likely will take even more punishment if the economy weakens. When times are bad shares of companies with high fixed costs, lots of debt, and that depend on ad sales, fall more dramatically than the overall market, Needham & Co analyst Laura Martin says today. She says that Discovery may be the best media stock to own now — but adds that it would be even safer for investors to own a fund of stocks that mirrors the S&P 500.
UPDATE, 2 PM: The market deteriorated as the day wore on, continuing the worst market slump since 2008. The Dow Jones U.S. Broadcasting and Entertainment Index closed down 7.3% — exceeding the 5.6% decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 6.7% drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500, and 6.9% fall at NASDAQ. CBS’ -10.3% slide made it the leading loser among media’s Big Guns. It was followed by News Corp (-7.7%), Viacom (-7.1%), Comcast (-6.6%), Sony (-6.4%), Disney (-6.1%), and Time Warner (-5.8%).
Double-digit losers include AMC Networks (-12.8%), LIN TV (-12.7%), Sirius XM (-12.7%), RealD (-12.6%), Cumulus Media (-11.9%), TiVo (-11.4%), Entercom (-10.9%), Westwood One (-10.8%), and E.W. Scripps (-10.3%). Those losing at least 9% include National CineMedia, Dish Network, Arbitron, Sinclair Broadcasting, Rovi, Outdoor Channel, Crown Media, Electronic Arts, Cablevision, and Coinstar.
UPDATE, 1:30 PM: Fear that the economy may be headed back into recession seemed to grow in the last hour of trading. The Dow ended the day -4.3% at 11,383.68. It was the biggest single-day drop since Oct. 22, 2008 and took the Dow below where it was at the beginning of 2011. Similarly, the S&P 500 was -4.8% and NASDAQ was -5.1%.
Although most media companies remain well ahead of where they were a year ago, today’s losses still look ugly. CBS, down 9.3%, was the hardest-hit infotainment giant. Here’s how the other Big Guns fared: News Corp -6.7%, Sony -6.5%, Disney -5.6%, Time Warner -4.6%, Comcast -4.3%, and Viacom -3.4%.
Among other media companies, Comscore finished -38.3% and Westwood One was -13.2%. Sinclair Broadcasting and McClatchy each lost more than 9%. Cinedigm, Live Nation, TiVo, and Liberty Media fell at least 8%. And Yahoo, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, The New York Times Company, Coinstar, and Dish Network lost at least 7%. Even World Wrestling Entertainment, which had been up earlier in the day, closed -1.4%.
The only company in the sector that gained ground today was Pandora Media. It ended +1.6% after Bank of America Merrill Lynch initiated coverage with a “buy” recommendation.