SOURCE: VANITY FAIR
“We’re Going Back in Time”: At Meredith, As a Culture Meld Ensues, Time Inc.’s Jewels are on the Block
It’s been a little more than a week since Time Inc. ceased to exist, and over at 225 Liberty Street on the banks of New York Harbor, where Meredith Corporation has assumed control of the 95-year-old magazine behemoth’s hundred-some-odd print and digital titles, the Earth is still spinning, the sun is still rising, and thousands of acquisition-weary employees are going about their daily business, albeit with a burning question in the backs of their minds: what next? Of particular interest to Meredith’s newly anointed denizens is the matter of if—when?—the Des Moines-based publisher will unload some of the erstwhile Time Inc. properties it has snatched up, especially those that seem less than suited to Meredith’s lifestyle-heavy portfolio. There’s been no shortage of queries from interested parties, people briefed on the matter told me, and the company’s C.E.O. all but hung a “for sale” sign during a conference call after the $1.8 billion deal closed on January 31, telling analysts and investors, “We have been pleasantly surprised with recent transaction prices in the media space, and inbound interest for certain properties has been strong.” A Meredith spokesman wouldn’t comment on the sale buzz beyond saying that “a full portfolio review is underway” and there will be “no decisions until that has been completed.”
Reed Phillips, an investment banker at Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips, told me he was “surprised by the high level of interest,” including from about half a dozen potential bidders who have contacted him thus far (but whose names he wouldn’t divulge). Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Entertainment Weekly are the hot properties, he said, noting that suitors are most likely to be rich trophy buyers, former media executives, and possibly other publishers. Private equity, not so much, “except maybe for some firms that would do distress deals,” Phillips said. “Strategic buyers or wealthy individuals are gonna win out.“
If the internal speculation is on point, Sports Illustrated is not long for Meredith’s world, with many expecting it will be sold first and fast because, as a masculine title, it is undoubtedly the sorest thumb in a stable that serves a predominantly female audience—the Better Homes and Gardens-Real Simple-Rachael Ray Every Day demographic. “It would be really surprising if they decided to keep it,” one knowledgeable insider told me. “I would think the announcement will come soon.” Fortune could conceivably draw buyers who are attracted to its well-established events component, which has been a growth area for the publication over the past several years thanks to the buzz around splashy shindigs like the Most Powerful Women Summit. When Alan Murray was elevated to chief content officer of Time Inc., he also retained a title as president of Fortune, and people who know him are betting that wherever Fortune goes, he goes with it. There’s even interest in what remains of Life, the legendary picture-driven title that lives on, as it were, as a section of time.com, where readers can browse and purchase images from Life’s vast, and lucrative, photography archive. Jim Gaines, a Time Inc. vet who has edited Life, Time, and People, tried to mount a bid for the Life brand (minus the photo collection) several years ago, including a pitch to Steven Spielberg for backing, and he’s back at it again trying to entice possible investors.