Scripps cautious on the M&A front


E.W. Scripps Company is debt-free and sitting on a pile of cash, but CEO Rich Boehne isn’t in any rush to spend it. He gave a cautious response in his quarterly conference call when an investor asked about acquisition possibilities.

“We have the same position we’ve always had. We’re looking for good, tangible cash-on-cash returns on investment when we find something externally,” Boehne said. “I’d say if you look over the past 36 months, for sure, we and many others have been more conservative than in the past as business has changed and as the recession sort of rolls through. But, no, we’re looking for good opportunities to put money to work, provided we can show very good cash-on-cash returns on investment.”

With over $200 million in cash on hand, one analyst questioned why the company was not buying back its own shares, since it did no stock buybacks in Q4. Company officials said that is regularly evaluated based on market conditions.

Scripps did announce one reorganizational deal on Thursday (2/24). It has now outsourced syndication of the 150 news features and comics of United Media to Universal Uclick, a division of Andrews McMeel Universal.

Universal Uclick will provide editorial and production services, sales and marketing, sales support and customer service, and distribution and fulfillment for all the news features and comics of United Media, including Pearls before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Marmaduke, Frank & Ernest, the Born Loser, Big Nate and Miss Manners.

Scripps will continue to own certain copyrights and control the licenses for those properties, and will manage the business relationships with the creative talent that produces those comics and features. The transition of the services begins immediately and is expected to be completed by June.

“After we sold United Media’s licensing operations in 2010 to focus on our core news and journalism enterprises, we set out to construct the best operating model for the remaining syndicate, whose primary customers are newspapers across America,” said Boehne, leading to the deal with Universal Uclick.