How Do You Mend a Broken iHeart? Media Giant Files for Bankruptcy



In a press release sent out late last night iHeart Media, the nation’s largest holder of radio stations as well as a number of other media divisions, announced it was entering into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. This follows a negotiation with Liberty Media (owners of Sirius XM satellite radio) that has agreed to infuse the company with over $1 billion in cash



The action was undertaken after last month iHeart missed an interest payment in excess of $100 million. The company currently sits on $20 billion of debt, and it worked out a deal with bondholders to restructure those obligations and alleviate half of that total. The intent is that the company can be restructured and remain a viable media player, despite the mounting losses.


The company stated that cash on hand, and current incoming revenue, should be sufficient to maintain business operations during the Chapter 11 proceedings. The press release boldly declares, in stark contrast to the financial reality, how it is a thriving corporation:


  • iHeartMedia has created a highly successful operating business, generating year-over-year revenue growth in each of the last 18 consecutive quarters. We have transformed a traditional broadcast radio company into a true 21st century multi-platform, data-driven, digitally-focused media and entertainment powerhouse with unparalleled reach, products and services now available on more than 200 platforms, and the iHeartRadio master brand that ties together our almost 850 radio stations, our digital platform, our live events, and our 129 million social followers.


Almost sounds like they are printing money, rather than burning through it and unable to even pay the interest on its loans. The facts are that even as iHeart has broadened itself as a brand it has not led to profits. Those hundreds of radio stations have had revenues eroding for some time.


The genesis of iHeart came out of the buyout of the former Clear Channel Communications in 2008 by Bain Capital. (That name lingers in the division Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, one of the largest billboard advertising companies. CCO is not filing Chapter 11 however.) The name was changed to i Heart years later as it re-positioned itself as a digital content provider, with most of its stations available to be accessed through the iHeart Radio app. It is also a leading syndicate player (it provides shows by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and numerous others) and hosts a number of branded concert events throughout the year.


This has not led to expanding profits however. In 2015 the stock shed over 75% of its value, and it has never recovered. Currently the stock price sits at the $0.50 level. The negotiations over the debt are ongoing, but as it stands it appears the creditors will be taking over the business. Estimates have those who provided the secured loans being granted over 90% of iHeart Media, and additionally be granted majority interest in the Clear Channel Outdoor division as well.



The stark reality is that audiences have migrated away from terrestrial radio in favor of digital formats, such as Pandora and Spotify. Its monolithic size means that iHeart struggles to move into the more streamlined digital format. But that also means that there is a precarious future ahead for hundreds of stations across the country.


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