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March 07, 2005

Are PE firms good at running media companies?

The Economist has an interesting article on the huge investments being made by Private Equity firms in taking over and turning around media firms.

Some extracts:

Some private-equity firms have long put money in media assets, but mostly reliable, relatively obscure businesses with stable cashflows. Now, some of them are placing big strategic bets on the more volatile bits, such as music and movies. And they are currently far more confident than the media old guard that the advertising cycle is about to turn sharply upwards...

..Private equity's buying spree reveals a lot about the media business in particular. Media conglomerates lack the confidence to make big acquisitions, after the last wave of deals went wrong. Executives at Time Warner, for instance, which disastrously merged with AOL in 2000, wanted to buy MGM, a movie studio, but the board (it is said) were too nervous. Instead, private-equity firms combined with Sony, a consumer-electronics giant, to buy MGM late last year...

...What private-equity men now bring to the media business, they like to think, is financial discipline plus an enthusiastic attitude towards new technology. Old-style media managers, claim the newcomers, are still in denial about how technology is transforming their industry...

...Traditional media managers grudgingly agree that, so far, private-equity investors are doing very nicely indeed from their entertainment deals. The buyers of Warner Music have already got back most of their $2.6 billion from the firm by cutting costs, issuing debt and making special payouts to shareholders. This year, its investors are expected to launch an initial public offering, which could bring them hundreds of millions more.

“Instead of treating private equity like a sub-species, well-managed media companies have figured out that under the right circumstances, we're both better off as partners,” he (Jonathan Nelson, founder of Providence Equity Partners, a media-focused private-equity firm) says. So far, however philistine and ruthless their motivations seem to the industry's old guard, private-equity firms are making media work better


Arun Natarajan is the Editor of TSJ Media, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of TSJ Media's Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.