Meredith Corp.’s sale of Sports Illustrated and Money is taking longer than expected.
While the publisher initially planned to have the sale of four former Time Inc. titles executed by fall, a timeline that the sales of Time and Fortune magazines managed to stay in line with, deals for Sports Illustrated and Money could still be months out. In a financial filing, Meredith said it now expects sale agreements “to be finalized in fiscal 2019,” which for the company ends in June. Meredith is also selling a 60 percent stake in Viant, a programmatic advertising company that was also part of last year’s Time Inc. acquisition.
A company spokeswoman declined to comment further on sales or specify if any have buyers formally lined up, but lately there’s not been much industry chatter about where either magazine may end up, giving way to speculation that there’s a dearth of interest or an issue with the price. Earlier last year, talent and media agency William Morris Endeavour was said to be looking at Sports Illustrated, as was Penske Media Corp. (the owner of WWD). Since both of those companies dropped out, both said to be unwilling to pay the rumored initial asking price of nearly $200 million, it’s been a revolving door of reported bidders. The New York Post has reported over the last year on at least five individuals or groups as being the “front-runner” for the title, the latest being an unnamed “mystery” bidder.
Whomever ends up sealing a deal, the price for Sports Illustrated is said to have come down to around $150 million, the same price fetched for Fortune and about $40 million less than that for Time. Money magazine, however, is proving to be something of a leftover, even though it’s valued on the high end at $15 million.
Part of Meredith’s initial plan, and really the most important, has held firm: getting about $500 million from the sales. It’s already gotten $340 million combined for Fortune and Time, so if it gets around $150 million for Sports Illustrated and even just $10 million for Money, it will hit the mark. However much it gets, the publisher intends to use the cash to continue paying down its debt by $1 billion this year. It’s already paid down $700 million with cash from the Time and Fortune sales and operations. Total liabilities stand at $4.5 billion, while net debt is $2.4 billion.
In the filing, Meredith reiterated that it’s on track to cut costs by $550 million the end of the next fiscal year, more than the $500 million it had planned for. Already costs have been reduced by about $275 million, mainly through “reductions in headcount,” of the roughly 1,200 layoffs Meredith announced after the Time Inc. acquisition. The next $275 million in reductions is expected to come through updated vendor contracts and real estate transactions.
As for the company’s overall financial position, revenue is up, but profits have taken a hit. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, revenue more than doubled to $853.5 million from $417.7 million a year ago, with $488.9 million coming from advertising and $336.8 million coming from a growing consumer or e-commerce business. Meanwhile, net earnings fell to $18.6 million from $159.4 million a year ago. However, the comparable period coincided with a significant benefit from the Trump Administration’s tax reform bill, which lowered corporate taxes to their lowest rate in decades and saw Meredith add $133 million revenue.
“Without a doubt, calendar 2018 will go down as a transformational, and perhaps the busiest, year in the history of Meredith Corp.,” chief executive officer Tom Harty said on an investor call. “While there is still more to be accomplished, we are very proud to be delivering on our plan.”
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