The Tribune Company, one of America’s oldest and largest media firms, will exit Chapter 11 today. Reuters reports that the firm will get a $1.1 billion senior secured term loan and other financial support. None of that will mean much, because the Tribune still owns too many properties that are dying. No evidence in the Tribune operating numbers, or those of its peers, offers any encouragement about its future.
The Tribune has eight large dailies and 23 TV stations. The boost that stations around the country got from the national election is over, and a similar event may not come around until four years from now. Ownership of local stations is not what it was 25 years ago when firms like Capital Cities had 70% operating margins at some properties.
The quarterly figures for the Washington Post stations from the pre-election Q3 2011 period are a fair way to look at the industry in its normal state. Revenue for the television broadcasting division was $73.8 million and operating income was $24.1 million. The margin is good, but not at a level that would help offset the debt the Tribune will have.
The Tribune’s papers are as troubled as any other large dailies. The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune will not do better financially than The New York Times or Washington Post, and their content is not “valuable” enough to erect a paywall to create revenue the way the Times or Wall Street Journal have.
There are rumors that News Corp. (NASDAQ: NWSA) could buy the LA Times, but they are only rumors. A close look that at the direction of the Times’ revenue and profits likely will cause any buyer to consider how the deteriorating state of the paper could be reversed. The only correct conclusion is that it cannot be.
Douglas A. McIntyre