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Pilot hits a wall

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Former MTV and AOL Time Warner exec Bob Pittman raised a sizable war chest to acquire TV stations, but so far his game plan has run into a wall. While his Pilot Group has scooped up a radio station in Panama City, Fla., the online site Daily Candy and a partial interest in OTX, an online research company, it has yet to seal a TV deal. And that isn’t for lack of trying. According to those who know Mr. Pittman and his compatriots, including media broker Robert Sherman, Pilot has run into what could be called the private equity curse. For the few available properties, it has lost out to so-called “strategic” buyers-companies already in the TV station business that will pay more for a station or a group because it builds their overall market leverage. “Station owners aren’t coming off their multiples,” is the way one source close to Pilot puts it. In other words, available station groups, like Fisher Broadcasting Co. in Seattle, want 14 times cash flow; while a private equity group like Pilot thinks eight times is reasonable.