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Attitudes soften for continued negotiations between Click and Fisher; meanwhile…Fisher may be for sale to benefit shareholder value

Post by C.R. Roberts / The News Tribune on Jan. 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
January 10, 2013 4:06 pm

The plot – the one with TV stations from Fisher Communications no longer being broadcast on Tacoma’s Click Network – thickens like a Fisher flour roux.

The contract between Click and Fisher expired Jan. 1, and Click pulled all Fisher broadcasting, including KOMO TV, from the air. Negotiations between the Seattle broadcaster and the Tacoma municipal cable network failed, settling into an impasse.

Earlier this week, the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution supporting Click in its negotiations with Fisher.

On Wednesday, Fisher Senior Vice President Randa Minkarah wrote to Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland (with copies to all council members) saying essentially that Fisher has negotiated in good faith and that Click was trying to pay less than Fisher deserved.

“We sincerely regret that we were not able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” Minkarah wrote.

Also: “Click Network was unwilling to pay market-based rates” during earlier negotiations.

Also: “Click Network is unwilling to compensate Fisher fairly for the value of the programming that it brings to its viewers and Click Network subscribers.”

And at the end: “We remain willing, as always, to discuss in good faith the terms for Click Network’s carriage of our channels at any time.”

Click negotiator and spokeswoman Diane Lachel responded Thursday by saying the network was preparing an official response to Minkarah’s letter.

“It’s an interesting characterization of what happened,” she said, disagreeing with some points raised.

“Our perspective is different from this, but there are some places we can point to and say, yes, that did happen,” she said, soothing troubled waters.

Continuing her conciliatory tone, Lachel noted, “We’re leaning into their desire to re-engage. We’re happy there’s movement.”

Meanwhile (and here’s where disinterested parties might enjoy speculating), Fisher Broadcasting issued a press release Thursday morning saying the company might be for sale.

Disagreement between Fisher board members is not a new phenomenon, but now it’s official: The board “has decided to explore and evaluate potential strategic alternatives intended to enhance shareholder value, which could result in, among other things, a possible sale of the company.”

The annual shareholders’ meeting has been delayed, scheduled now to occur “not earlier than June 9, 2013.”

Seeking advice and counsel, the company has hired New York investment bank Moelis & Co. and Seattle law firm Perkins Coie.

As part of a proxy battle leading to Fisher’s 2011 annual meeting, the representative of a shareholder group said one of the group’s primary motives was to “drive shareholder value.”

The group had recommended several profit-maximizing initiatives, including a move to “reduce costs and improve efficiencies in the news department, including by better automating production across stations.”

In her letter to Strickland, Minkarah also noted the high cost of local new production by writing, “It costs Fisher millions of dollars each year to produce the award-winning news broadcast every day at KOMO 4 News.”

She continued, “It is no longer possible for Fisher to produce the daily news or to acquire other programming based solely on the fees advertisers pay for commercials.”

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