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Tribune to separate broadcasting, publishing businesses

The Chicago Tribune building is seen in Chicago, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young
The Chicago Tribune building is seen in Chicago, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Jennifer Saba

(Reuters) - Tribune Co will separate its publishing business from its more-profitable broadcast division, it said on Wednesday, following the path taken by Time Warner Inc and News Corp.

Media companies have been shedding their print assets to allow a greater focus on their faster-growing broadcast businesses.

Tribune plans a tax-free spinoff of its eight newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The new company, Tribune Publishing Co, will have its own board and senior management team.

The broadcast company, which will retain the Tribune name, will include its 42 local TV stations, superstation WGN America, an equity stake in the TV Food Network, and digital and real estate assets.

"Each will be a stronger company when separated from the other," Tribune Chief Executive Officer Peter Liguori wrote in memo to employees. "(The spinoff) will also allow us to maintain flexibility as we continue considering all our strategic alternatives for maximizing shareholder value."

The move marks another twist in the ownership of Tribune, which started in 1847 with the publication of the Chicago Tribune. Last year it emerged from a four-year bankruptcy after real estate developer Sam Zell acquired Tribune and saddled it with enormous debt just as the newspaper industry hit a downturn.

Newspapers have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years as advertisers flee the medium and consumers ditch print subscriptions in favor digital access for their smartphones and tablets.

Earlier this year, Tribune said it was looking at selling the newspapers after it retained Evercore Partners Inc and JPMorgan.

Tribune had not officially begun the sale process for the newspapers, a person familiar with the company told Reuters last week.

A separate newspaper company could be easier to sell since the split would resolve questions around real estate and digital assets like CareerBuilder and Classified Ventures.

TREND TO SPIN

The move to spin off publishing assets has been a popular one. Time Warner is in the process of spinning off its Time Inc publishing division after a potential sale to Meredith Corp fell apart.

News Corp, which now consists of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, publisher HarperCollins and pay-TV and digital assets in Australia, started trading as a separate company on July 1.

"In every case, the management is looking at the comparative growth rate of the publishing assets versus the broadcast assets, said Alan Mutter, a managing director at media and technology consulting firm Tapit Partners and author of the blog "Reflections of a Newsosaur."

"The future for publishing is unclear at best, and at worst, the ongoing deterioration may continue."

Tribune has already turned its attention to television. A longtime broadcast executive from Fox and Discovery Communications Inc, Liguori orchestrated Tribune's blockbuster acquisition of Local TV for $2.3 billion just last week..

In 2012, Tribune's publishing assets accounted for two-thirds of the company's total revenue of $3.1 billion but only 22 percent of total operating profit of $396.4 million.

Tribune expects to complete the separation over the next 12 months, and management will present detailed plans for the board to consider. Each company would have revenue in excess of $1 billion, Tribune said.

(Reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York and Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bangalore; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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