7/26/08

THE GROWING OWNERSHIP OF PRIVATE EQUITY IN MEDIA

The privatization of Clear Channel Communications ends a 2-year effort to buyout the leading radio and outdoor advertising firm. The $17.9 billion buyout by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners allows the new owners the opportunity to pursue strategies with less influence from unpredictable investors pursuing short-term interests. The sale comes amid heavy competition in terrestrial and satellite radio, but provides the new owners more flexibility in deciding how to best operate the 900 radio stations, radio programming services, and subsidy that owns one million outdoor ad locations.

The sale is just one more in a growing trend for private equity purchases of media firms. Their interest in media companies stems from the fact that the market value of many does not reflect the underlying cash flows and asset values or the mid- to long-term prospects of the firms.

The valuation challenge of media occurs in good part because advertising expenditures are not evenly distributed throughout the year and because advertising revenue is significantly affected by fluctuations in the economy. These variations create significant disquiet among stock market investors because they make revenue, returns, and dividends less predictable in the short term.

These realities—combined with unproven beliefs of many investors that new media are displacing all mature media and making growth in their businesses impossible—reduce the valuation of media stocks and make media firms attractive to private equity firms that think about the businesses in terms other than quarterly performance.

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