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Clear Group

Overview


This profile considers US broadcaster and outdoor advertising conglomerate Clear Channel.

It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • SFX and KCX
  • display operations and Ackerley
  • Australian holdings
  • studies

Introduction

US broadcasting Clear Channel Communications claims to have

the world's largest broadcasting portfolio, including the Company's 1,189 owned and operated domestic radio stations, equity interests in various international broadcasting companies, a leading national radio network and 40 owned or programmed TV stations.

It has a presence in Australia through partnerships with APN, Austereo and DMG. It has grown through acquisition of individual stations and major networks, which in turn resulted from aggregation of smaller radio networks after changes to the US regulatory regime in the 1990s.

In November 2006 it agreed to be acquired for US$18.7 billion by a private equity consortium that includes Thomas H Lee Partners and Bain Capital. (Lee is part of the consortium that acquired Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications for US$12 billion earlier in the year; Lee and Bain have major stakes in Cumulus Media Partners). Clear Channel put a total value of US$26.7 billion on the transaction, including US$8 billion in assumed debt and announced that it would sell 448 of its 1,150 radio stations, along with its 42-station television group.

Its corporate site is here.

The group

As of late 2005 Clear controls around 1,170 radio stations and 19 television stations in the US - nothing, it seems, exceeds like success - and has major overseas interests (for example a stake in over 118 Mexican radio stations).

In 1997 it bought the Paxson group's radio stations. During early 2001 it paid approximately US$24 billion for 460 stations. It currently has stations in 247 of the 250 largest US radio markets, throwing off around US$3 billion in annual revenue.

As of 2004 it also owned

  • the largest US rock concert promoter, SFX Entertainment (acquired for US$4.4 billion in 2000 and rebadged Clear Channel Entertainment) - spun off as Live Nation in December 2005
  • over 135 concert venues,
  • radio research companies, radio trade magazines, regional news networks,
  • Premier Radio Networks - syndicated programming
  • Mediabase, an airplay monitoring system
  • Adshel, an international outdoor advertising company with around 770,000 billboards.

The group is the broadcasting equivalent of the Knight-Ridder, Belo and Gannett newspaper chains in the US - lots of small operations with strict cost control, an emphasis on content sharing and what critics have described as "cookie cutter" or sensationalist journalism.

Some of those criticisms feature in the ClearChannelSucks.org site.

Growth has been driven by the availability of cheap finance and the successive weakening of regulatory constraints that formerly capped the size of broadcasting networks and the number of stations they could own in a particular market.

Clear had a substantial stake in Hispanic Broadcasting, the leading US Spanish-language radio broadcaster (some 55 stations, including the top Spanish stations in nine of the leading markets).

In June 2002 Univision - controlled by Jerrold Perenchio, Cisneros and Televisa - announced that it would buy Hispanic for US$3.5 billion.

SFX and CKX

SFX Entertainment was acquired by Clear in 2000 for US$4.4 billion.

It had been founded in 1997 by Robert F X Sillerman, executive chair of SFX Broadcasting (acquired that year by Capstar for US$2.1 billion and thus absorbed by Clear in 1999 as part of the AMFM Inc takeover). In 2004 Clear announced plans to wholly spin off SFX, with the temporary name of CCE Spinco. As of 2004 it comprised entertainment operations throughout North America, Europe, South America, Asia and Australia, with annual 2004 sales of US$2.75 billion.

Sillerman concurrently announced establishment of CKX Inc and a definitive agreement to acquire an 85% interest in the Elvis Presley estate (including the Elvis personality rights, operation of Graceland and revenue derived from Presley's music, films and television specials).

In December 2005 SFX/Spinco was spun off as Live Nation.

Display operations and Ackerley

Clear Channel Outdoor was established in 1901 as Foster & Kleiser Advertising, experiencing significant growth after 1995 as Eller Media Co. Eller was acquired by Clear Channel Communications in 1997, along with US-based Universal Outdoor (for an aggregate 88,000 displays in North America) and EU-based The More Group.

Eller was rebadged as Clear Channel Outdoor in 2001. Acquisition for US$850 million of the Ackerley group (formerly the fourth largest US billboard operator) in 2001 provided another 6,000 outdoor displays.

Ackerley Group comprised Outdoor Media (including outdoor advertising in Seattle, Tacoma, Boston, New Jersey, New York City, Portland, Salem and Eugene), Television Broadcasting (owned and/or operated 18 stations in California, New York, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as Progressive HD Mobile Productions), Radio Broadcasting (owned and/or operated five radio stations in the Seattle-Tacoma market) and Sports & Entertainment (including the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics - sold to a consortium led by Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz - and the WNBA's Seattle Storm).

By 2001 Clear Channel claimed over 700,000 displays on roads, on taxis and buses, on trains, at airports and other venues. Its earnings of US$1.1 billion in 2001 are claimed as 22% of total US outdoor advertising revenues of $5.2 billion.

Australian holdings

Clear's major Australian presence is through its 50% stake in the Australian Radio Network, half-owned by the O'Reilly controlled APN.

ARN stations include -

  • WS FM - Sydney
  • MIX 106.5 - Sydney
  • Gold FM - Melbourne
  • MIX 101.1 - Melbourne
  • 4KQ - Brisbane
  • 5DN - Adelaide
  • MIX 102.3 - Adelaide

In New Zealand, ARN has a one third interest in The Radio Network (TRN), the leading commercial broadcaster with 55 stations.

APN's Pan TV is a joint venture between ARN, public sector broadcaster SBS and Australian Capital Equity. Its World Movies pay tv channel is distributed by the three pay tv carriers - Foxtel, Optus and Austar - and accessed by about 15% of pay tv homes.

APN's outdoor advertising holdings include Adshel Street Furniture (in partnership with Clear's Adshel group).

Studies

There have been no major studies of Clear or the Mays family.