Oak Hill Forms Unit To Operate TV Stations, Wants To Expand Media Universe

After snapping up the New York Times Co.'s collection of local TV stations, private-equity firm Oak Hill Capital wants to expand its portfolio.

The $4.6 billion firm announced that it has formed a unit to operate the stations, noting that it intends to "build a broader media platform."

The firm named two former radio executives to head Local TV, LLC: Randy Michaels is CEO and Robert Lawrence is president-COO. Michaels headed Clear Channel's radio stations from 1998 to 2002, working with Lawrence.

Looking to focus on its print operations, the Times sold its nine stations after only four months on the block. They include four in top-50 markets, to Oak Hill for $575 million earlier this month.

The group's four top-50 market stations are in Norfolk, Memphis and Oklahoma City, where it operates a duopoly.

Other media companies have also unloaded their TV properties.

NBC Universal sold four of its owned-and-operated stations last year. Emmis, Sinclair and Tribune have also shed stations recently, and Tribune may soon peddle the rest of the 23 stations in his stable, given shareholder upheaval.

To many, the future of local TV stations is cloudy, since they derive so much of their revenue from local news, which is increasingly consumed via the Internet.

Many investors, for example, would like the E.W. Scripps Co. to sell its stations, although the company says it's more focused on divesting its newspaper operations.

But private equity firms--free of shareholder pressure--have become more interested in stations, which still draw healthy profit margins.

Oak Hill is the latest in the game. "Oak Hill is a tremendous equity partner," Lawrence said. "They are committed to giving us the capital and flexibility we need to support this acquisition and our future expansion initiatives."

Oak Hill has other investments in the media arena, mostly in cable operators, such as Atlantic Broadband and WideOpenWest.

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