Time Inc. may, or may not, be willing to hold a fire sale, just yet
While US media observers think that Hearst and Meredith may be interested in picking off some titles, the Time Inc. UK portfolio may be just, or more, interesting to some others
The M&A world has shifted its gaze from the tronc newspapers temporarily and now are looking firmly at Time Inc. – and for good reason. The publisher still has some interesting magazine properties, but their recent moves seem to be showing that they are less interested in building up their print titles as they are moving into content other than magazines.
The NY Post’s Keith Kelly is talking about Real Simple, InStyle and Cooking Light, titles that Meredith might be interested in, as well – though I think they would covet Southern Living, and maybe add in Sunset for good measure. In others words, there are buyers, the question is whether there is a seller.
The problem remains those damn weeklies – and the fact that Time Inc. management could never really get a handle on the unwieldy company. Trimming it down to size might be just what management needs to do – and it certainly would be better than their current strategy, which is to trim on the human side of the equation.
Time Inc. over the past year has looked to beef up Sports Illustrated – but that was when the CEO’s son, Brendan Ripp served as group publisher of the Sports Illustrated Group. But with dad gone, Ripp left for National Geographic, now part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, to head ad sales.
Then there is Time Inc. UK, which seems to be to be more in play than anything else. One can imagine someone working day and night to find a way to take the portfolio off Time Inc. CEO’s Rich Battista’s hands. The cash infusion might just fund an initiative dear to him without forcing the accrual of more debt. (See related story on Time Inc. UK CEO Marcus Rich becoming chairman of Magnetic come January 1.)
But unlike some major newspaper companies, that have grown their debt to scary levels, Time Inc.’s debt is just about where it was a year ago, and actually down a tad. Selling off some properties, or its entire UK operation would certainly make this issue go away.
I suspect Time Inc. will be looking closely at how some titles are performing in Q1 of 2017 before making any decisions. But, in the meantime, anyone interested in making acquisition – anyone that is a publisher rather than a private equity company – will have their own issues to close.
The first quarter of 2017 could well see more media M&A activity than we’ve seen lately – and by March we may be talking about those tronc newspapers again, as well.