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E.W. Scripps Co. to sell 34 radio stations, expand restructuring

Cincinnati-based media chain trims $30M in costs
Posted at 9:06 AM, Jan 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-25 09:54:25-05

CINCINNATI -- The E.W. Scripps Co. -- WCPO's parent company -- is looking to sell its 34 radio stations while tripling the size of a cost-cutting effort that began last fall.

“The time is right to find a new owner for our radio group that can provide the focus and resources the stations and their creative, devoted employees deserve,” Scripps CEO Adam Symson said in a press release. “The enterprise-wide restructuring positions us well for continued growth while maintaining high-quality journalism as our central focus.”

The company is trying to reduce annual operating expenses by $30 million with a restructuring initiative that has so far eliminated 49 jobs, including 30 at Scripps' corporate headquarters Downtown. The company previously announced $2.4 million in restructuring charges related to the downsizing of its online humor magazine, Cracked. It will recognize another $2 million in restructuring expenses in its fourth quarter results and expects another $4 million in such expenses this quarter.

The sale of Scripps’ radio division will trim 400 jobs and roughly $71 million in revenue from the 4,200-employee company. Scripps retained the media brokerage firm Kalil & Co. to sell the radio assets it acquired in 2015. The division accounted for 7.5 percent of Scripps’ operating revenue in 2016. Its $12.8 million in operating profit was about 12 percent of Scripps’ total.

The changes come as Scripps prepares for a new wave of media consolidation that’s expected from the FCC’s loosening of ownership rules in November. The new rules could let media companies acquire two of the top-rated TV stations in a single market or combine newspapers with TV properties.

“Broadcasters will benefit from the ability to consolidate local market ownership through acquisitions and station swaps," said Jason Cuomo, vice president and senior credit officer for Moody’s Investors Service in a report issued last November. "Broadcasters that increase their scale in local markets will attract more advertising, improve their negotiating leverage and bring down their costs."

Scripps has previously said it will try to buy or trade stations in existing markets to increase its concentration in those cities. But it’s also looking to make new investments in digital news brands that will position the company for future growth.

“We’re not trying to double our size, in terms of having 48 stations or something like that,” said Carolyn Micheli, Scripps vice president of corporate communications. “We want some meaningful acquisitions that help our portfolio performance.”

Scripps has 33 TV stations in 24 cities that reach 18 percent of the nation’s television households.

“We’re very bullish on the future of television,” Micheli said. “There are more ways to watch TV than ever but they’re all television. So, you can find WCPO on Roku or an Alexa Flash Briefing, on DirecTV Now or You Tube television. Local news brands have really shown a lot of resiliency even in this very fragmented market.”