Trade press reports yesterday and today announced that the Clear Channel spin-off of a number of its small market radio properties is continuing, with bids due on February 23. While this is not the end of the process, as the bids will have to be analyzed, and then the high bidders will have further diligence and bidding opportunities before any sale is complete, it does demonstrate that the process is moving forward, and that the 448 stations that Clear Channel plans to spin off will be sold later this year. As has been announced, there may well be additional spin-offs of larger market stations that cannot be held by Clear Channel under the revised multiple ownership rules when and if its transfer of control to the private equity buyers takes place. What impact will these sales have on the FCC’s on-going proceedings – particularly the multiple ownership proceeding?
Whenever media consolidation critics discuss the consolidation that has occurred over the last 10 years, one of the biggest issues is always the 1000 plus stations owned by Clear Channel. If a significant number of those stations are divested, and some end up in the hands of new owners, how will the critics react? While, as we have written here before, the multiple ownership proceeding is not one we expect to be resolved any time soon, these sales, and those that we have seen in recent weeks by of other large radio and television companies spinning off non-core stations in smaller markets, may even reduce the pressure on the FCC to act on the multiple ownership proceeding – as more owners will have more opportunities to bid and perhaps buy broadcast stations. Once again, a reason to conclude that we should not look for any decision in the multiple ownership proceeding any time soon.