For more than two decades, innovations in technology and shifts in consumer habits have been disrupting the business models of media and entertainment companies, and companies are still shedding assets to respond to the changes. Among those shrinking to grow are Thomson Reuters, Tribune Media and Tegna. In the case of Tribune, shedding non-core assets may have helped position it for the company’s announced acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI). More media divestments are expected in the months ahead.
Advancements in technology are influencing divestment plans from declining and non-core business operations. In October 2016, Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI) sold its intellectual property and science business to Onex Corp. and Baring Private Equity Asia for $3.55 billion in cash. The news and wire service provider plans to use nearly $1 billion of the company’s net proceeds to buy back shares, pay down debt and reinvest in the company.
“On both sides, divestments are good,” says John Harrison, global media and entertainment leader and Ernest & Young LLC who authored the recent EY Global Corporate Divestment Study. For the seller, the company now has a more focused set of operations by removing internal competition, while the company that’s being divested is now either an integral part of a bigger company, or a carve-out standalone with the ability to strategically invest in itself. In totality, divestments present synergy opportunities and highlight tax upsides for each prospective buyer.
In February, Tribune Media completed the sale of Gracenote assets, a media data application, for $560 million. The deal generated nearly $500 million in proceeds after tax for the company, with plans to use $400 million to pay down debt and reinvest the remaining proceeds to focus more intently on Tribune Media’s local television and entertainment business. Tegna Inc. (NYSE:TGNA) made similar efforts when the company spun off its Cars.com website into a separate publicly traded company in September 2016.
The sale of Gracenotes may have put Tribune in a better position to be acquired by Sinclair for $3.9 billion in a deal announced earlier in May. The The marriage of two of the largest local TV station owners in the U.S. was made possible after the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease a limit on TV-station ownership in the U.S. in April.
For many companies, dealmakers often see the market not giving any value to a company’s non-essential assets. Thirty-three percent of media and entertainment companies are planning to divest within the next two years, according to the EY study. “We expect to see divestments to keep going,” according to Harrison. “Smart management teams and boards are taking a hard look to see what they’ve got and what they need.”