Landmark ends sale efforts


Landmark Communications sold The Weather Channel and to a joint venture of NBC Universal and some private equity firms for $3.5 billion, but one TV station sale was called off and some other properties were pulled off the market. Now Landmark has officially pulled its last property off the market and will stay in the newspaper, television and Internet media businesses until the credit markets improve.

There were high hopes back in January when Landmark Communications put essentially everything it owns on the market so that founder Frank Batten Sr. would be able to enjoy distributing more of his billions to philanthropic causes. Even then our RBR/TVBR observation warned that it was going to be tough to sell the nine daily newspapers and other publishing assets. But there was speculation that The Weather Channel and might command up to $5 billion and that there would be plenty of interest in the two television stations, KLAS-TV (CBS) Las Vegas and WTVF-TV (CBS) Nashville.

The big deal did get done, with NBC Universal, Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group ponying up $3.5 billion for The Weather Channel and Not as big of a price tag as some had expected, but still a mega-deal.

Also announced was a deal to sell WTVF Nashville for $209 million to Randy Bongarten’s Bonten Media Group Inc. But Bonten’s financing was from Lehman Bros. and when Lehman collapsed, so did the deal, which was officially called off in October.

A short time later, Landmark pulled most of its properties off the auction block, but continued efforts to sell The Virginian-Pilot, its flagship newspaper in the Norfolk, VA market, and related publications in the region. The would-be buyer there had been confident of arranging financing. But now the newspaper reports that the credit squeeze did in that deal as well. Landmark Vice Chairman Richard Barry told The Virginian-Pilot that the company still intends to sell all of its assets. So, it’s still open to offers, but won’t actively market any of the properties until the economy improves.

RBR/TVBR observation:
There are certainly entrepreneurs out there who are interested in buying media properties. But what we keep hearing is that financing for a deal of any significant size is virtually impossible to find. Without lending, deals don’t get done. And while folks in Washington have been jawboning about how banks have to get back into the lending business, we haven’t heard of any real improvement yet.