Tribune's TV stations and publishing business remain in play at press time, with offers from the Chandler family (the company's largest shareholder), billionaires Ron Burkle and Eli Broad, and the Carlyle Group.
The Chandlers offered an estimated $7.6 billion. Voluble critics of Tribune management in the past, they intend to spin off the stations to shareholders. The Chandlers estimate the stations' worth to be around $4.2 billion, although management believes the value to be less. The stations include powerhouses WPIX New York, WGN Chicago and KTLA Los Angeles, along with much smaller CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates.
The Chandler family is also angling for additional seats on the board; it currently holds three. Tribune's deadline for board-member nominations is Feb. 8.
News Corp. is on board with the Chandlers for a "small stake"—estimated at $200 million to $300 million—in the Tribune publishing business, according to a News Corp. spokesperson. News Corp. seeks to cut costs at its New York Post by combining back-office operations with Tribune's Newsday newspaper.
Barrington Research analyst James Goss believes that Tribune will seek out potential bidders that have not made an offer, push those that did to sweeten their offers, or take the properties off the market. If it's the latter, he says, Tribune can bide its time before deciding to sell off stations piecemeal. "They can concentrate on the markets where they're strong," he says, "such as Chicago and maybe L.A."
Tribune, which will announce its fourth quarter 2006 earnings Feb. 8, declined to comment.—Michael Malone