Gabelli may hold the key to Fisher's future


When it comes to media investors, few can compare to Mario Gabelli. And if this is a game of poker, he may be holding the hand that decides what happens to Fisher Communications.

The mutual funds managed by Gabelli & Company have long been invested in Fisher Communications. In fact, they’ve long been invested in many media companies, both those currently in business and many names which are now footnotes of history. Along the way Mario Gabelli – “Super Mario,” the Wall Street nickname he seems to enjoy – has made a lot of money for himself and his investors.

The current battle for control of the board of directors at Fisher Communications is hardly new territory for Gabelli. As the company’s largest shareholder he launched his own challenge back in 2009. That was settled with Gabelli withdrawing his own dissident slate as Fisher agreed to add two candidates he and other dissatisfied shareholders deemed acceptable. One of those two was David Lorber from FrontFour Capital, who is now pushing for the sale of Fisher.

Gabelli funds currently own 27.8% of Fisher’s stock, so Super Mario still controls far and away the biggest voting block at the company.

Following the recent developments, Gabelli sent a letter to Fisher CEO Colleen Brown. He’s not taking a position for or against the proposed sale – at least not yet. He wrote, though, that he was not happy that Brown and the board did not make public the December buyout bid by Huntingdon REIT – a company closely associated with FrontFour – at the time it was made. That offer was flatly rejected by the board and only became known when Huntingdon went public with it in January.

Gabelli suggested that his firm might take a role of hosting presentations for major shareholders by both sides of the battle for control – just as it has done in the past at other companies. RBR-TVBR readers may recall Gabelli & Company playing that role when board seats at Media General were in play. That proxy battle resulted in the election of three dissident candidates with Gabelli’s support, although they left the board a year later with not much changed. In his letter Gabelli suggested that FrontFour is likely to push company management to make a decision on “spinning off the real estate,” which would be Fisher Plaza in Seattle.

RBR-TVBR obtained a copy of the Gabelli letter to Brown, which is posted as a pdf attachment on this page.

RBR-TVBR observation: Given the size of Gabelli’s holdings at Fisher, it is unlikely that any sale can take place without his support. No doubt he will want to get good value for his investors if that does take place. RBR-TVBR recently provided some exclusive analysis of the asset values at Fisher, which indicated that the offer on the table from Huntingdon is rather low-ball.