EW Scripps is to acquire ION Media for $2.65bn in a deal supported by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, marking the latest round of consolidation in the broadcasting industry.
The billionaire investor has agreed to inject $600m of preferred equity into the tie-up and has been given an option to buy 23.1m additional shares in Scripps at $13 a share, about $3 higher than its closing price on Wednesday.
Mr Buffett’s bet on old media comes shortly after the 90-year-old investor ploughed $570m into fast-growing cloud database company Snowflake, as Berkshire looks for ways to put its $150bn cash pile to work.
As part of the deal Berkshire will receive an 8 per cent yearly dividend, which echoes an agreement with Occidental Petroleum, the US energy company whose takeover of rival Anadarko Petroleum Mr Buffett helped last year with $10bn in financing. In addition to Berkshire’s investment, the deal will be financed with $1.85bn of secured and unsecured debt.
After cutting back on stakes in large US banks, including Wells Fargo and JPMorgan, as well as American Airlines in the wake of the pandemic, Mr Buffett has made a series of investments, including a $6bn contrarian bet on Japan’s five biggest trading houses and a $10bn takeover of Dominion Energy’s gas business.
The deal values Florida-based ION at 8.2 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation over the past year to June, without taking into account $120m of annual cost synergies. The combined company’s net debt will be 5.2 times ebitda, based on the last eight quarters on an annualised basis.
ION Media, which is owned by Black Diamond Capital Management, a credit specialist, is known for airing popular crime television shows such as Law & Order and CSI. The network airs its programming through television stations it owns as well as affiliated TV stations and reaches more than 100m homes in the US.
The deal will beef up Cincinnati-based Scripps after the company was spun out from Scripps Networks Interactive more than a decade ago. Scripps Networks Interactive was acquired by Discovery for $14.6bn in 2017.
To secure regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission, Scripps has agreed a deal to sell 23 ION stations.
TV networks have struggled in recent years to compete with fast-growing streaming rivals such as Netflix and Hulu, while the battle to survive has become more intense since large media, telecoms and cable groups such as Disney, AT&T and Comcast launched “cut the cord” services.