Battered Tribune Can Exit Bankruptcy, but More Bludgeoning Looms

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Former Tribune owner Sam Zell

After three and a half years of twisting in the wind, Tribune Corporation’s plan for exiting bankruptcy was approved by Judge Kevin Carey in Wilmington, Delaware.

Lawyers have collected more than $400 million in fees from the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, already buried under $13.5 billion in debt by its previous owners. But the rocky ride for the remaining employees will continue over at least the next six months as decisions are made on how to carve up the remaining assets.

Tribune owns a handful of newspapers—including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune—23 television stations, a radio station and pieces of other media enterprises such as and the Food Network. The assets are valued at $6.75 billion: $2.9 billion for the TV stations, $2 billion for CareerBuilder and the Food Network, and less than $1 billion for the newspapers.

Ownership of the company is set to be placed in the hands of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management LP, and Angelo, Gordon & Co, which invests in distressed companies. They will pick a seven-person board of directors, whose first order of business will likely be to sell off the company’s parts for cash.

But before that happens, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will have to decide what happens to the radio and television properties. The new owners have their own media properties and the FCC prohibits ownership of competing media outlets in the same market.

And Tribune attorneys almost certainly aren’t through with the courts. The plan approved by Judge Carey was the fourth submitted by Tribune and, like those that preceded it, was hotly contested by other holders of debt who wanted a bigger share of the divvy.

Aurelius Capital Management LP, Deutsche Bank Trust Co Americas and Wilmington Trust Co. have threatened court action, as has former owner Sam Zell, who feels he wasn’t properly compensated for engineering a leveraged buyout that forced a thriving media giant into bankruptcy one year after its purchase.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Tribune Exit Plan Finally Wins Approval (by Sean Kelly, Courthouse News)

Tribune Finally Wins Court Nod to Exit Bankruptcy (by Jonathan Stempel, Reuters)

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