NEW YORK -- Tribune Co., the owner of 26 television stations, has agreed to sell WCWN-TV in Albany, N.Y., to closely held Freedom Communications Inc. for $17 million.
The transaction is part of Tribune's May 30 plan to sell at least $500 million in assets over the next two years, the company said yesterday. The station is affiliated with the CW network, which will begin airing in September after Time Warner Inc.'s WB and CBS Corp.'s UPN merge, said Tribune, which also owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Sun and other newspapers.
Tribune agreed to sell WATL-TV in Atlanta on June 5 as part of the plan that also includes a $2 billion stock buyback. Tribune is under pressure from investors, including the Chandler family trusts, after a 32 percent stock slide in two years.
Chandler trustees made public objections to the buyback, company strategy and management on June 5. On June 15, Tribune's seven independent directors publicly defended the plan and the media company's management.
"I don't think a $2 billion stock buyback is the best way to do it," said Scott Benesch, an analyst at U.S. Trust Co. in New York, in an interview about ways to boost Tribune shares. By adding $2 billion in debt to the balance sheet, he said, "you put yourself at risk in an economic downturn."
"Everybody has to understand that these are advertising-cyclical businesses, and three years from now, if there's an economic downturn, earnings could be cut 20, 30 percent," Benesch said. U.S. Trust owned about 307,800 Tribune shares, as of March 31, among its assets under management.
Separately, Tribune said yesterday that advertising sales at its newspapers rose 3.6 percent in May, helped by a 37 percent jump in real estate classified advertising. The second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher said its revenue rose 2.1 percent to $467 million for the month that ended May 21, compared with its May 2005 revenue.
Tribune bought WCWN in 1999 when it was a Public Broadcasting Service-affiliated station and changed it to a WB station, according to the statement. Freedom already owns WRGB-TV, a CBS network affiliate in the Albany market, Tribune said.
Freedom Communications, based in Irvine, Calif., publishes 28 daily newspapers.
Tribune's shares rose 1 cent to close at $31.93 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.