Publisher Tribune emerges from four-year bankruptcy

(Reuters) - U.S. media giant Tribune Co emerged from bankruptcy on Monday, ending four years of Chapter 11 reorganization and potentially setting itself up for a future without newspapers.

People walk past a newspaper box across from the Chicago Tribune tower in Chicago, Illinois December 8, 2008. Publisher and broadcaster Tribune Co., a privately held company, which publishes the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection according to the Los Angeles Times December 8. REUTERS/Frank Polich

Tribune’s controlling owners, which include hedge funds Oaktree Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Co, and JPMorgan Chase & Co intend to sell most, if not all, of its newspapers and already have expressions of interest for The Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel and others, Reuters has reported.

For now at least, the Chicago-based company said its portfolio would include eight major daily newspapers and 23 TV stations.

Tribune’s newspapers remain profitable despite the falloff in readers and advertising. Veteran newspaper analyst John Morton, President of Morton Research, estimated the Los Angeles Times could fetch $130 million at an auction, while the Chicago Tribune could garner $86 million in a sale.

Oaktree is the biggest Tribune shareholder, owning about 23 percent of the company while Angelo Gordon and JP Morgan each hold a 9 percent stake.

“Tribune will emerge as a dynamic multi-media company with a great mix of profitable assets, powerful brands in major markets, sufficient liquidity for operations and investments and significantly less debt,” Chief Executive Eddy Hartenstein said in a statement.

As part of the Chapter 11 exit, the company closed on a new $1.1 billion senior secured term loan and a new $300 million asset-based revolving credit facility.

The term loan will be used to fund certain payments under the plan of reorganization and the revolving credit facility will be used to fund ongoing operations, the company said.

Tribune’s most actively traded debt, a $5.5 billion loan due in May 2014, was most recently trading at 83 cents on the dollar, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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Upon exiting bankruptcy, Tribune will have issued to former creditors a mix of about 100 million shares of new class A common stock and new class B common stock, and new warrants to purchase shares of new class A or class B common stock.

Hartenstein will remain CEO until the new Tribune board names a new management team. Peter Liguori, a former Discovery Communications chief operating officer, is expected to be named CEO.

The company announced a seven-person board that includes Hartenstein, Liguori, former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn and Peter Murphy, Walt Disney’s former top strategic planning executive.

Tribune is expected to focus on building its TV operations. In its portfolio, it owns WGN America, a national feed of Tribune’s Chicago TV stations that it distributes through cable and satellite to more than 76 million U.S. homes.

Horizon Media analyst Brad Adgate said WGN could expand its base by 20 million to 25 million homes if it adds original programming to its lineup.

Tribune’s TV operations are estimated to account for $2.85 billion of the company’s $7 billion valuation, while its publishing assets are estimated to represent $623 million, according to a report by its financial advisor, Lazard. The rest of its value resides in assets including its 30 percent stake in the Food Network and its cash balance.

In November, Tribune received regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to transfer its broadcast licenses to the owners who would take it over after emerging from bankruptcy.

Real estate magnate Sam Zell stunned the media industry when he took the company private in 2007 in an $8.2 billion leveraged buyout that burdened the company with debt and that many observers warned would be disastrous. Tribune was forced into bankruptcy in 2008.

The company’s reorganization plan was confirmed by the Delaware bankruptcy court in July.

The case is In re: Tribune Co et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York and Ashutosh Pandey in Bangalore; Editing by Nick Zieminski