COVID-19 affects finances of largest broadcasters

As the COVID-19 virus infiltrates every aspect of personal & business life, the largest broadcasting corporations are not immune to the financial implications this has precipitated.  The pandemic has resulted in broadcasters being hit hard & fast where it hurts – advertising revenue.  The result means drawing on credit lines.  According to Radio Online broadcasting companies are drawing heavily on these.  The first indications of these are just now becoming public. “Urban One President/CEO Alfred Liggins III revealed his company has drawn 27.5 million from its asset-backed credit facility – something Liggins says is similar to what many companies are doing.  Townsquare Media is one such company and has borrowed $50 million under the revolving credit facility portion of its credit agreement with administrative agent Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Townsquare disclosed the transaction on Friday via an SEC filing, one day after its Q4 and year-end 2019 earnings call. Townsquare CEO Bill Wilson said on the call that the impact to his company this month’has been significant’.”  How much longer until the very largest of broadcasting companies, such as iHeart Media, Cumulus & others – already teetering on financial insolvency – find they are unable to weather the unknown duration this virus will perpetrate on company revenues? 

While I find it difficult to shed tears over the predicament these companies find themselves in, I do feel for the remaining employees & staff employed by these organizations & their already fragile tenure due to continual ruthless cost cutting to reduce debt & overhead.  Surely jobs will disappear in the short term, but may never return once this is over. Recent revelations by iHeart Media that AI will soon become an on-air reality at their broadcast properties could be fast-tracked for implementation in spite of the costs & increasing debt load.  The large broadcasters have put themselves in precarious financial position based on cheap borrowing & a crisis such as we’re now in is enough to push them over the edge of remaining profitable. Perhaps one of the positives when this nightmare eventually concludes, will be the liquidation of these corporations  & their assets.  Lower prices for broadcasting properties will presumably occur, perhaps attracting smaller broadcast groups that survive financially to make acquisitions.  It is tempting to think we might once again have some diversity of ownership & viewpoints in American broadcasting & return to the era of multiple, competitive broadcast ownership that isn’t an “asset” or “property”of some large financial investment group or bank.

In spite of consolidation of programming by the corporate broadcasting companies, individual & teams of on air & sales personnel are attempting to adapt to this (hopefully temporary) ‘new normal’.  Many, if not most, on air teams have retreated to home studios as Jason recently illustrated with his post on “95.7 The Jet” KJR-FM personality Matt Case.  Such is also the case with many TV personalities & hosts as well. Many are making use of social media to compliment their home-based shows, including fun activities, contests & games to engage kids – now stuck inside home instead of school & social activities.  Air personalities are connecting with listeners as much as possible to allow people to vent, to share stories, activities & tips on coping with self-isolation. So too are sales depts. attempting to reach out to those advertisers still buying time.  They are catering to the needs of these clients & creating ad campaigns that take into account the sensitivities & realities this pandemic has inflicted upon all of us.  However hard the troops in radio are rising to the occasion, whether there will still be paycheques coming soon is debatable.  The corporate broadcasters have demonstrated repeatedly how little they care about the actual human beings that work so hard for them.  As they sink deeper into debt while their ad revenues dry up or disappear, so too will the broadcast professionals who are making sacrifices to ensure radio will survive.  Perhaps this will be the end of large, corporate broadcasting owners who care little about the industry they are in.  That means a return to smaller, more broadcasting focused owners hiring back the people who keep our radio stations on the air with information & entertainment & surely, a more vibrant & successful future for American broadcasting.

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Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

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