Our 2018 Radio Industry Predictions

While large-scale dealmaking in radio has been slow the past couple of years outside of the Entercom/CBS Radio merger, the action has been heavy on the television side. As some of the biggest television operators reach the current limits of the amount of television they will need to look to other mediums to continue to grow their revenue streams.

That is why we are making the prediction that 2018 will be the year we begin to see the big television group operators acquire radio groups. Some television operators have seen the benefits of having integrated television and radio stations such as Hearst’s WBAL/WIYY/WBAL-TV Baltimore, Sinclair’s KOMO/KPLZ/KVI/KOMO-TV Seattle, Tribune’s WGN/WGN-TV Chicago and Tegna’s just purchased KFMB/KFMB-FM/KFMB-TV San Diego. With the FCC rule change in November to no longer count co-owned radio and television stations under the same market cap the ability to combine large radio clusters and television duopolies only becomes so much easier.

Should the Sinclair purchase of Tribune be approved that company will be nearly maxed out in terms of the amount of markets it can operate television stations in. With its primary revenue generator being local advertising how else can Sinclair increase its advertising offerings beyond its television stations and digital platforms? Why not with a purchase of Cumulus? Should Sinclair and Tribune’s deal be approved, a deal with Cumulus could give the company overlapping radio and television operations in as many as 57 of the 107 markets Sinclair will own television stations in across the country.

Sinclair once owned a 49 station radio group that it sold to Entercom and Emmis in 1999 and 2000 for over a billion dollars at the peak of radio consolidation which was used to pay down debt and further television growth. Sinclair has a blueprint for how combined television and radio operations can function in the Seattle radio holdings it gained from its 2013 purchase of Fisher Communications and its upcoming addition of WGN radio and television in the Tribune deal. A Sinclair/Cumulus combination could bring larger ad packages in multiple mediums as well as built-in crosspromotional platforms.

There are other benefits to Sinclair/Cumulus marriage. Cumulus’ network of Talk stations mesh perfectly with Sinclair’s conservative push. And as Sinclair has been the biggest proponent of the upcoming ATSC 3.0 television standard, it could use Cumulus and Westwood One’s programming to build a subscription audio service ala SiriusXM using television spectrum.

It doesn’t need to start with those two either. A company like Townsquare Media could be a great fit with a company like Gray Television with its fifteen overlapping markets or with a Nexstar and their twenty six overlapping markets.

Then there’s what will be left of 21st Century Fox following its $52.4 billion deal with Disney. Fox will retain the Fox and MyNetworkTV networks and their Fox Television Stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel and sports networks FS1/FS2 and will be in need of content to fill those networks and stations after divesting the Fox studios and libraries. So what about a marriage with iHeartMedia?

Fox and iHeart are already partners on many initiatives including Fox News Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and the music competition series The Four which debuts this week. Fox’ content needs can be partially filled from iHeart’s concerts and awards shows that currently air on other networks or any other projects they develop. iHeartMedia owns radio groups in fifteen of the sixteen markets where Fox owns television stations and that’s before any further station acquisitions that could come with the proceeds of the Disney sale.

These television groups also have something that Cumulus, iHeartMedia, Townsquare Media, or others like Alpha Media do not have. They are flush with cash on hand to make deals and have the confidence of Wall Street. With Cumulus in bankruptcy, iHeart on the verge, and Townsquare recently making a CEO change, none of those groups are in the best financial footing. Acquisitions from the big television consolidators would bring much needed financial stability to these companies.

A few other predictions…

Wrestling With Radio

One of the things that the podcasting boom exposed was the strong demand for professional wrestling audio content. Eight of the current top 50 sports podcasts come from wrestling personalities and radio is starting to catch on. Former WWE performer and announcer Taz had been hosting a daily podcast/streaming show for CBS Sports Radio and today debuted as new morning co-host on the network. Westwood One will announce this week that Chris Jericho will bring his “Talk Is Jericho” podcast, his podcast network, and possible syndication products over from PodcastOne. Other companies will follow suit as they seek to reach the male 25-54 demographic.

More Entercom Deals

Now that Entercom has digested its acquisition of CBS Radio and its ancillary side deals we expect to see further acquisitions as Entercom seeks to strengthen its standing in some markets where it has only a few stations like Charlotte, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Orlando or fill-in some of the larger markets where it does not have holdings like San Antonio and Tampa.

Main Studio Rule Changes

The elimination of the Main Studio Rule will become law in the next couple of weeks. But don’t expect much of the way in elimination of many studios just yet. Companies will take baby steps to see how much business they can move outside of a local market and still keep revenue numbers where they need to be.

A Note Of Thanks

Thank you to all of our readers for your continued support of RadioInsight in 2017. This was a record breaking year for us traffic-wise as we’ve solidified our standing as the most read site dedicated exclusively to the American radio industry (second overall to the one accessing record labels as well). We have some new regular features that we will be begin rolling out next week and we’d love to increase our contributor base with guest columns if you have something you’d like to share with the RadioInsight audience or if you’d like to use RadioInsight to market your products and services. Just get in touch with us and let’s talk how RadioInsight can make these happen.

-Lance Venta

  1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

    I can’t see it pulling off a major deal now, but I’m still a bit surprised that Scripps hasn’t made a few small deals to increase the number and/or size of its local radio/TV clusters. (Of course, I’m still surprised about Cox missing out completely on the CBS/Entercom spinoffs.)

    1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

      As usual, I was wrong: Scripps may now be more likely to get out of radio than to add to it.

      (See https://us6.campaign-archive.com/?u=78b390ff9f5b002e3f050238c&id=43b9681514, under “From the Rumor Mill – Is Scripps exploring a sale of its radio group?”)

  2. Stelly says

    I’m not too sure about Gray getting into radio. They had a chance with their buyout of Schurz Communications, but decided to punt the radio stations to Neuhoff.

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