The two biggest albatrosses hanging upon the radio industry for nearly a decade now were the billions of dollars in debt payments owed by two of the biggest operators. Once Cumulus and iHeartMedia come out of the process, their financial status will be much improved and without the debt payments to hold them down they will be in a much more viable position to invest it their businesses.
As Bob Pittman emphasized in a memo to iHeartMedia employees today, their company generated more than $6 billion in revenue and $1.6 billion of OIBDAN over the past 12 months. Nearly all of that revenue went back into debt payment as opposed to operations and growth. During the bankruptcy no interest payments will be payed on the debt and the restructuring will eliminate half of the $20 billion in debt the company holds.
Many questions remain as iHeart proceeds through bankruptcy. Will Liberty Media still make a play for the company? Will that entail further integration with their SiriusXM, Pandora, and Live Nation investments? Will other companies see an iHeartMedia with a much better balance sheet as a takeover target? The infrastructure the company has built around the iHeartRadio app and its events business as turned it into a multi-platform business not reliant on just AM and FM anymore.
A strong Cumulus and iHeart will only make the radio industry stronger. But where does the rest of the industry stand? Scripps has put its stations on the block. Cox Media Group has been rumored to be placing the for sale sign on some of its markets. Emmis and Alpha has been in selling mode. SBS and Univision are under investor pressure to do something and iHeart and Cumulus may each look to divest non-core assets as they go through their financial restructuring. I know of a handful of Cumulus markets that are being shopped.
So where are the buyers? Entercom, Hubbard, Saga and Bonneville could make calculated strikes as could regional players like Midwest, Neuhoff, and Dick Broadcasting. Townsquare stated earlier this week that they’d be shopping for assets that could be coming on the market. But unless some new buyers are willing to come into broadcast radio ownership where will all these stations flooding the market go? That is a question many will be trying to solve over the next year or so, but as long as we have three strong groups at the top of the pyramid with iHeartMedia, Entercom, and Cumulus there is a lot of potential for the broadcast radio industry as we head towards 2020 and beyond.