Local TV station giant E.W. Scripps is buying independent broadcaster ION Media in a $2.65 billion deal that will give it a national footprint — with an assist from Warren Buffett.
ION distributes syndicated shows such as “Law and Order” and “NCIS: Los Angeles” through an “over-the-air” national network of licensed television stations it owns in 62 markets and 124 affiliated stations, reaching 96% of U.S. homes.
The acquisition announced Thursday will merge ION with Scripps’ five Katz networks and its Newsy multiplatform news service to create a new national TV business for the nation’s fourth-largest independent TV station owner, which has 60 stations in 42 markets.
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway will help finance the deal by making a $600 million preferred equity investment in Scripps.
“This evolution of Scripps’ national television networks business … repositions the company in the television landscape,” Scripps CEO Adam Symson said in a news release. “With its strong revenue growth, high margins and significant cash flow, ION will make Scripps a more powerful and durable media business with significant near-term benefit as well as long-term value. “
The Wall Street Journal said the deal will “transform” Scripps, roughly doubling its TV station footprint and supercharging distribution of its programming.
Over-the-air networks “are seen as increasingly attractive as more consumers cut the cord and instead rely on streaming services like Netflix and free-to-air programming,” the Journal noted.
West Palm Beach, Fla-based ION started out to Pax TV in the 1990s, rebranding to ION in 2007. According to Scripps, its average prime-time audience is the fifth largest among all networks carried by cable operators and it posted a compound annual growth rate of about 12% between 2009 and 2019, with revenue last year of $587 million.
“ION Media is a distribution double threat — carried on cable and satellite through must carry while also capitalizing on cord-cutting and the growth of free over-the-air broadcasting,” Symson said.
The WSJ noted that the deal “is a somewhat unexpected move for Berkshire, which hasn’t recently made media investments” and in January sold its newspaper business to Lee Enterprises for $140 million.