iHeartMedia, Cumulus Go Debt-Offensive

How many ways can you keep debt at bay? Does non-payment sound like a viable option? Perhaps not if you’re just a mere flesh-and-blood human, but the corporate beast’s a special class.

Over at iHeartMedia, $250 million of the company’s $20+ billion debt came due last Thursday (December 15). In a surprise move, the company announced two days before that it would only be paying back just $192.9 million of these notes and foregoing the rest.

The reason? This debt constitutes money that various subsidiaries of iHeartMedia owe to each other. In addition, these particular debt instruments contain a provision that, should the total debt held between these entities fall below $500 million, it would trigger a “springing lien.” This is a fancy term for extra payments owed to debtors as an incentive for giving the conglomerate a nice line of credit.

By witholding $57.1 million of these payments, iHeartMedia’s total debt in this instance doesn’t fall below the threshold, and thus the company can avoid making the bonus-payments to creditors. To stymie any objection to this ploy, iHeart went to the friendly Bexar County, Texas courts and filed a flurry of paperwork last Monday (to give you an idea of how complex its debt structure is, there 11 petitions in all, involving six Clear Channel iHeart subsidiaries), asking a judge to declare this practice kosher. Read More

Radio Stocks Spice Books for Year’s End

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:

1. 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.” Read More

HD Radio’s Next Bling Things

The closure of Tessera Technologies’ purchase of DTS Inc., the owners of iBiquity’s HD Radio system for just one short year, is set for sometime in December, and the combined companies will adopt a new name and stock symbol on NASDAQ in the new year. But just how much did the HD system itself drive its sale twice in 14 months, and what are the prospects for its future development?

Turns out, not very much on both counts: buried at the bottom of a story published by iHeartMedia-owned Inside Radio in early November was this gem: “DTS had been in sale mode since June 2014 when it was first approached with a $29-$32 per share buyout offer that proved to be too low for the board’s approval. But it set into motion the process that ultimately led financial advisors to shop the company. Tessera first appeared on the radar in August 2015 — two months before DTS bought the HD Radio business from iBiquity — and those discussions continued for months [emphasis added].”

In other words, DTS had put itself up for sale before negotiations began to acquire the United States’ troubled digital radio broadcast platform. And in fact, two months before DTS actually bought iBiquity and the HD system, it had already received acquisition-inquiries from Tessera. At the time, DTS’ board of directors considered the sale-price per-share too low…but what better way to bump that up to a more lucrative level then to acquire some additional intellectual property for the corporate portfolio? Read More

A Trump FCC and Pirate Radio: Prepare for Struggle

The United States is still trying to come to grips that it has elected a proto-fascist as its next chief executive. With the Republican Party in firm control of the legislature and the ability to shape the judiciary for the next several decades, lobbyists of all stripes are drooling at the prospects of a bona-fide kleptocracy.

Of all the things expected to be decimated in the Trump era, media and communications policy are among them. Others have already written about the potential for a GOP-run Trump FCC to undo several years’ worth of media reform efforts, such as network neutrality, media ownership limits, and many other things. We still don’t know who Trump may nominate to chair the Commission, though there’s talk that one of the two sitting GOP Commissioners may get the nod.

Neither will be good: Ajit Pai is a trenchant disciple of neoliberal economic theory, and pretty much sees all regulation as bad regulation; Mike O’Rielly, who helped write the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (though tellingly does not crow about it), is pretty much the same. But O’Rielly’s crusade to eliminate unlicensed broadcasting from the nation’s airwaves has gotten a significant boost with this election. Read More

Translators Now Constitute the Largest Number of U.S. Radio Stations

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.

FCC Broadcast Station Totals, 1992-2016

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. Read More