iHeartMedia, With $20 Billion in Debt, Looks to Restructure a Portion While Holding Off Creditors

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The radio and advertising giant needs more time to get out from under an enormous mountain of debt.

iHeartMedia is fighting back against a default notice sent by a group of senior debt holders as it tries to restructure its massive debt load. 

A group of creditors claimed Monday that iHeartMedia had violated the lending agreement by shifting money from one division of the business to another. The company is seeking a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction that would provide time to resolve the matter before its debt goes into default. iHeartMedia disagrees with the lenders, saying in a statement that the contribution “constituted a permitted investment under, and fully complied with, our financing agreements.”

The event in question was iHeartMedia’s transfer of a $200 million dividend from Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc., it’s outdoor advertising company, to a subsidiary, Broader Media LLC. The senior debt holders — senior because the have the first claim to assets if a company goes out of business — believe the stock transfer constitutes a default and might call their debt within 60 days. That default would have a cascading effect, triggering defaults on other debts the company owes.

The share transfer is more than simply moving assets from one company to another. The transfer would allow Broader Media an opportunity to exchange existing debt for new debt that would have more seniority than they have now, according to one report. This would give iHeartMedia breathing room by replacing existing debt that’s due soon for new debt it would pay at a much later date. However, the group of senior debt holders. 

The group of lenders represent about 25 percent of the outstanding amounts of four priority guarantee notes, according to reports. Debt is issued in terms of priority. Lenders with top priority are ensured payment before lower-priority debt holders is paid. 

iHeartMedia has over 840 radio stations and more than 110 million weekly listeners, while its iHeartRadio digital service has 80 million registered users. Despite those impressive listener figures, but the company is facing financial challenges as the broadcast radio industry shifts along with the digital -- its iHeartRadio digital brand lags behind Pandora and Spotify. According to a new report by Edison Research, younger listeners spend far more of their time streaming audio than older age groups. Streaming accounts for 21 percent of audio listening time among those aged 13 to 24, 11 percent for those 35-to-54, and 4 percent for listeners age 55 and older. For all three age groups, radio constitutes a higher listening share than streaming. The differences are stark, however. For the 55-and-over group, radio has a 71-percent share. For the youngest group radio holds a 39-percent share. 

The company has $20.6 billion in long-term debt related to its 2008 purchase by private equity groups Bain Capital Partners LLC and THL Partners. The interest paid on that debt ate up about a quarter of the company’s revenue in 2015. Revenue last year was $6.5 billion. A $1.74 billion interest expense drove a net loss of $661 million.

The 2008 acquisition came at the peak of leveraged buyouts before the recession. It preceded by a year Terra Firma’s ill-fated acquisition of EMI Group. Citibank, which financed the EMI deal, ended up taking control of the once-major label in 2011 after a failed solvency test.  Citibank later sold EMI’s recorded music division to Universal Music Group 

Over the years iHeartMedia has been able to postpone the maturity dates of its debt, but recent reports claim the company has hired financial advisory Moelis & Co. to help restructure part of its debt.