N.Y. Times selling its TV stations

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NEW YORK -- The private-equity deal wave doesn't show any signs of stopping in the new year.

The New York Times Co. has agreed to sell its nine network-affiliated TV stations to private-equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners, known for its buyout a few years ago of drug store chain Duane Reade, for $575 million, the company said Thursday.

The deal, which allows the NYT Co. to focus on its newspaper business, is expected to close in the first half.

The NYT Co.'s Broadcast Media Group includes one MyNetwork TV, two NBC, four CBS and two ABC stations in such markets as Des Moines, Iowa, Norfolk, Va., and Oklahoma City. Oak Hill also will acquire their associated Web sites and digital operating center in the transaction.

For the first 11 months of 2006, the NYT Co. reported revenue of $143.6 million for its stations group, up 12.1% compared with a year ago.

The company said it was exploring a sale of the stations -- as a group or in multiple deals -- in September, and the fact that a private-equity firm again walked away with the price didn't shock anyone Thursday.

However, it wasn't immediately clear whether the purchase would mean that Oak Hill could look to gobble up additional TV stations and other media assets.

"The New York Times Co. Broadcast Media Group is one of the industry's most admired franchises because of its heritage television stations, its commitment to quality news and serving the local community, and its outstanding employees," Oak Hill managing partner J. Taylor Crandall said. "We look forward to maintaining the standard of excellence that the New York Times Co. has achieved over the last 30 years."

Crandall focuses on technology, media and telecommunications investments at Oak Hill, which has offices in Stamford, Conn., New York and Menlo Park, Calif. The firm said it has more than $4.6 billion of committed capital from entrepreneurs, endowments, foundations, corporations, pension funds and global financial institutions. Texas billionaire Robert Bass, who ranked 200th on the 2006 Forbes list of the world's richest people, is its lead investor.

Oak Hill officials weren't available for further comment on the TV stations deal and potential further major media acquisitions.

According to a recent Forbes profile, Oak Hill's private-equity fund has attracted cash from Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight. According to its Web site, the firm's media investments include Atlantic Broadband Group, which operates cable systems on the East Coast, and WideOpenWest, which operates cable markets in Chicago and Detroit, among others.

NYT Co. president and CEO Janet Robinson lauded the solid business momentum and content of her company's TV stations but emphasized that they are no longer core assets.

"Over the years, they have provided their communities with high-quality programming and have contributed significantly to our financial performance," she said. "We believe, however, that our focus now should be on the development of our newspapers and our rapidly growing digital businesses and the increasing synergies between them."
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