NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - The family that owns Landmark Communications is exploring a sale of the company's businesses, including The Weather Channel and a Kentucky-based division that operates several newspapers.
Landmark's CEO, Frank Batten Jr., said in a statement Thursday that the privately held company has retained JPMorgan and Lehman Brothers to help it explore possible sale scenarios.
"At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead," Batten said. Batten did not say why a sale was being considered, and his secretary said he was not immediately available to comment.
The company owns Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., based in Shelbyville, Ky., which operates 54 newspapers in 13 states, including 19 in Kentucky.
The New York Times reported Thursday that The Weather Channel could fetch more than $5 billion and is attracting interest from several parties, including General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, News Corp. and the cable TV company Comcast Corp. The Times cited unidentified people briefed on the matter.
Several other media companies have also been sold recently, including Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co., which was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $5 billion. Real estate magnate Sam Zell recently took control of the newly private Tribune Co., which owns nine daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, and 23 television stations.
The Weather Channel's Web site, Weather.com, had more than 32 million unique users in November and ranks as the nation's 18th-largest media site by traffic, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
Debora J. Wilson, The Weather Channel's chief executive, told The New York Times in June: "Every media conglomeration has approached Landmark, and there's never been a yes. We actually think that we're stronger being independent."
The company, which had $1.75 billion in sales in 2006, employs about 12,000, according to Hoover's, a business reference service. It is parent to nine daily papers, including its Norfolk-based flagship, The Virginian-Pilot, and The Roanoke Times in Virginia, The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., and The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown, Ky. It owns more than 100 nondaily newspapers and specialty publications.
"While I am saddened about this development, I understand and agree with the business reasons for exploring these options," Bruce Bradley, publisher of The Pilot and a Landmark employee for 34 years, told The Virginian-Pilot. Bradley's secretary said Thursday that he would have no additional comment.
In addition to The Weather Channel and its Web site, Landmark owns television stations in Las Vegas and Nashville, Tenn., and Norfolk-based Dominion Enterprises, a national chain of classified-ad publications.
Frank Batten Sr. helped build the company after taking over as publisher of the local newspaper in 1954.
Company Web site: http://www.landmarkcom.com/
Landmark Community Newspapers: http://www.lcni.com
The Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com
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