iHeartMedia Beyond Borrowed Time

3/15 Update: Today iHeartMedia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, after coming to a deal with a viable cross-section of its creditors to wipe some $10 billion in debt off of its balance-sheets…leaving the “restructured” company with about $10 billion left to pay down. Some creditors, who hold eight to nine figures of this debt, will be wiped out, but it’s too early in the process to tell just who will get screwed the most. Just today, iHeart tendered nearly 20 filings with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Texas’ Southern District – and those to whom the company owes money, as well as other interested players looking to intervene, have filed another 70+, suggesting this process will not be smooth nor speedy. [Original post follows below.]

What a strange way to go bust. After spending years telling the public that all was well – consolidation, automation/syndication, and cost-cutting was “good for radio” and tens of billions of dollars of debt was of little to no concern – Clear Channel iHeartMedia is finally preparing to pay the piper.

On February 1, the nation’s largest radio broadcast conglomerate welshed on a $106 million dollar interest-payment, triggering a 30-day countdown to default. As the clock ran down, on March 1 the company also skipped an additional $138 million in interest-payments, all in the hopes of forcing its creditors to the table to hammer out a soft landing in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, similar to what Cumulus Media did late last year (though Cumulus was only in one-tenth the debt that iHeart is, and Cumulus’ reorg-timetable has also hit some snags).

In between skipping these payments, iHeart tendered a restructuring offer to its lenders that seeked to reduce the company’s total debt from nearly $21 billion to $5.5 billion, all of which would be expected to be repaid over five to seven years. In exchange, “senior lenders” would receive an 89.5% equity share in the company, including 100% ownership of Clear Channel Outdoor – the most healthy division in the iHeartMedia constellation, and the one that iHeart itself’s been drawing money from over the last few years in order to juggle its crippling debt. Bain Capital – the private-equity firm which more than doubled iHeart’s debt when it took the company private in 2008, setting it up on the crash-trajectory it faces now – would walk away with less than 2% of the restructured company. Read More

iHeartMedia Seeks Pounds of Flesh for Bankruptcy Pressure

After fending off one legal challenge that would’ve sent the company into default, the nation’s largest radio conglomerate now seeks a spot of revenge.

iHeartMedia is heading back to a Texas courtroom in hopes of getting mega-damages out of a consortium of investors who went after the company, serving a notice of default for playing fast and loose with its $20+ billion worth of debt — a strategy which involves iHeart setting up shell companies to repurchase some of the debt it already owes at lower interest rates, while also working to shield some assets from potential creditors. The conglomerate filed suit to stop the default process, and the Bexar County judge sided with iHeart in May. Read More

Next Steps for All-Digital AM-HD

Since my run-in at the NAB Radio Show with industry forces spearheading experimentation with the all-digital AM variant of HD Radio, they have been busy. Back in September, testing was underway on stations in Seattle—the eighth and ninth such stations to conduct tests in the last two years—and the NAB et al. described the preliminary results as quite positive.

When the tests concluded in October, the president of the stations hosting them in Seattle said that while the experience was good, some listeners wondered if their stations would be going all-digital anytime soon. Not for at least 10 years, replied the executive, “because regulatory efforts take time.” Read More