If U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey today approves Tribune Co.'s reorganization plan, enabling it to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, New York-based banking giant JP Morgan Chase will become a significant media player, owning more television stations than any major network and becoming America's second largest newspaper publisher.
JP Morgan Chase was one of Sam Zell's leading banks, helping fund the real estate baron's $8.2 billion buyout in December 2007 to take Chicago-based Tribune from a publicly held company to one that's private.
JP Morgan is the administrator of $8.57 billion in senior debt against Tribune and itself holds about $1 billion of that.
JP Morgan Chase already owns a majority stake in Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom Communications, publisher of The Orange County (Calif.) Register, 25 other daily newspapers and operator of eight television stations.
And last year, JP Morgan Chase took over Yardley, Pa.-based Journal Register Co., publisher of 19 daily newspapers.
At both Freedom and JRC, JP Morgan Chase had been the lead lender. When the companies could no longer repay their loans, they swapped debt for equity in their reorganization plans, making the bank their majority shareholder as they emerged from bankruptcy protection.
If it takes control of Tribune today, JP Morgan will now oversee 54 U.S. daily newspapers, the largest being the Los Angeles Times, making it the country's second largest daily newspaper publisher after Gannett.
JP Morgan will also own 31 television stations, surpassing the number of TV stations owned by CBS and News Corp.
"While there seems to be a gravitational pull to settling this case, it's difficult to predict what's going to happen in court," said corporate reorganization expert and University of Chicago Law School professor Douglas Baird.
Tribune's reorganization plan has a lot of support, said Baird, but the creditors that are saying they're left out of the plan will make their dissent known.
"Judges like to see cases resolved," said Baird.