Interesting stories abound in the news about the world’s largest broadcast/outdoor advertising/live music venue conglomerate entertaining the idea of going private, possibly selling itself out to a “vulture capitalist” firm.
Clear Channel’s official line on the buyout talks is that it seeks to “enhance shareholder value,” which is an eloquent way of saying there’s greed at play, and the typical sources of funding aren’t working out so well anymore.
Clear Channel shot to prominence with the help of venture capital infusion, and taking the company public pumped billions of dollars into it, hundreds of millions of which ended up in the pockets of the founding Mays family. The rumors of going private have further jacked up the company’s stock price, which certainly doesn’t hurt matters.
None of this means that Clear Channel is in some sort of financial difficulty. The company’s outdoor advertising division is the most wildly profitable of the bunch, and although its broadcast properties were highly leveraged (especially during the period of explosive growth post-1996) they also remain profitable.
Corporate transitions from public to private and vice-versa, like combination-and-spinoff cycles, often come about when companies feel there’s money to be made in the change. Lowry Mays and his sons will see another windfall out of any deal, and taking the company private removes it from an element of public accountability.