Byron Allen’s media empire has it all on $ 8 billion TV bet
Byron Allen, the 1980s comedian turned media mogul and Weather Channel owner, plans to buy a massive TV channel previously owned by newspaper giant Gannett – and the result could make or break his burgeoning business empire, according to some insiders.
Allen – who made headlines last year when he took a racial discrimination case against Comcast to the Supreme Court, losing the case but still wresting concessions from the cable giant for its fledgling television networks – Now is considering an $ 8 billion deal to acquire Tegna, a 64 television and radio station that covers more than 50 markets across the United States.
Allen’s motives may have become clearer last week when Fox launched a 24-hour streaming weather app that media insiders say looks like the basis of a new cable TV channel. Fox Weather is likely to have significant leverage as it considers a rollout given the influence of Fox’s news and sports channels – and the Weather Channel is in its sights, sources said.
The Fox app, which features free permanent video streaming and 3-D radar, will be broadcast from a newly renovated studio at its Midtown headquarters and can also pick up content from local Fox stations in the United States. . “Fox’s network of dual-polarity Doppler radars, helicopters, journalists and news crews around the world allow us to show you the weather in a way you’ve never seen before,” according to its site. Web – illustrating what the incumbent Weather Channel and Allen are. versus.
Fox, who shares a common owner with News Corp., the publisher of The Post, declined to comment.
If Allen, 60 – for whom Allen Media Group has amassed 33 stations affiliated with local television networks – gets his hands on Tegna’s 64 stations, his negotiating position with the cable giants could be significantly strengthened. Allen could also gain leverage to sell his nine other nascent networks to cable companies, including Pets.TV, Comedy.TV, Recipe.TV and Cars.TV.
One problem: Allen is bidding for Tegna’s TV channels against hedge fund Standard General, whose CEO Soo Kim owns the Bally casino empire and is teaming up in its bid with private equity giant Apollo Global Management with deep pockets. They have already submitted a fully funded bid of $ 22 per share for Tegna, according to multiple sources. Tegna shares closed at $ 19.66 on Friday.
This offer has its own issues – and could create an opening for Allen. Earlier this year, Standard General launched an unsuccessful proxy race to oust Tegna chief executive David Lougee, highlighting allegations of discrimination and racial prejudice against Tegna, which Lougee has denied. The Standard General-Apollo team would push back Tegna’s current leadership; Allen would keep them, according to familiar sources.
Nonetheless, sources said that Allen himself could face an even more serious problem, namely that the Weather Channel’s business has been hit hard during the pandemic. As TV commercials decelerated, Allen Media’s revenue rose from around $ 185 million to $ 130 million before closing in August on the acquisition of 10 stations from Gray Television, giving it a modest boost, according to a person familiar with the company’s finances.
As a result, Allen Media’s debt in recent months has climbed to more than seven times its ebitda, a closely watched measure of profitability, people familiar with the situation said. This is approaching a red line where Allen Media could break its debt commitments – and makes it harder for it to secure financing for an ambitious acquisition, the person familiar with the company’s finances said.
Allen – who earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week – has tried in recent years to make a transformative acquisition and has failed. In 2018, he wanted to participate in the $ 4 billion auction for Tribune TV channels and was unable to field co-investors.
Last week, Allen reportedly spoke to Oaktree Capital Management, Fortress Investment Group and Ares Management about a partnership in a last-minute bid for Tegna, sources said.
A sticking point for Allen is that his co-investors want a big stake in Tegna because they would put in most of the equity. Allen wants to maintain almost total control, sources have said in the wake of the situation.
“I think he will give in,” said a source familiar with the situation.
Allen has made some lenders nervous after an audit they conducted this summer found he had earned hefty compensation from his company, which had recently reported annual sales of around $ 600 million, even as activity was down, sources said. Allen paid himself a total compensation of $ 50 million in 2020, according to familiar sources.
Reporting Allen’s compensation, the lenders charged him $ 40 million to allow him to borrow more money to fund Allen Media’s approximately $ 1.5 billion debt, according to sources close to the case. Allen Media pays a blended interest rate of around 7%, sources said. If it hadn’t been for the spending issues, he would have been billed less than $ 40 million, sources said.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Allen recently borrowed $ 83 million to expand his Beverly Hills, California estate. Since 2018, he bought a lavish apartment on Central Park South for $ 27 million, a sprawling cottage in Aspen, Colorado for $ 27 million, and another estate on the Hawaiian island of Maui for $ 23 million.
If Allen doesn’t strike the deal for Tegna, his mini-media empire could find itself on shaky ground under the weight of excessive debt, sources said. The Weather Channel earns less than 15 cents a month per cable subscriber and makes most of its money from advertising, according to a person familiar with the situation. Still, Allen Media did well during the September “upfronts”, where media companies sell airtime to advertisers, according to a source familiar with the circumstances.
But in addition to rival bidders, Allen faces uncertainty from Tegna herself, who has only said she is exploring a possible sale. Tegna, who has had two sales processes in recent years that have not resulted in a sale, said last Wednesday he was examining his “options for creating and returning shareholder value.”
Allen and Tegna both declined to comment on The Post.