Rosslyn-based Gannett Co., apparently on the prowl for additional properties to add to its far-flung media empire, has approached CBS Inc. and Time Inc. about possible mergers in recent weeks, sources said yesterday.
But the overtures were turned away by officials at those companies, the sources said, and a Gannett spokesman said the company is not currently holding discussions with either CBS or Time.
However, "Gannett continues to be interested in acquiring media properties large and small, and [Chairman] Alan Neuharth and other executives daily travel around the country talking to their friends," spokesman Charles Overby said yesterday. "Sometimes, those friendly discussions turn into business discussions, and sometimes those business discussions turn into mergers and acquisitions."
Analysts and other sources say Neuharth seems bent on increasing the size and visibility of Gannett, whose holdings include USA Today and more than 75 other newspapers, about two dozen radio and television stations, the nation's largest billboard company and a variety of other communications interests. Last year, Neuharth relocated Gannett's headquarters to Rosslyn from its longtime base in Rochester, N.Y., a move widely seen as intended to increase the company's image as a media power.
"I think Neuharth really wants to create the nation's largest media company," said John Morton, a media-industry analyst for Lynch Jones & Ryan in Georgetown.
And a broadcast-industry source said, "Neuharth very badly wants to do a big deal."
Sources said CBS and Time were among several media companies approached by Gannett recently, although the other companies were not identified. Gannett has already been on an acquisition binge of late, spending more than $300 million so far this year to acquire the Des Moines Register & Tribune Co., the Family Weekly newspaper supplement and the Triangle Sign billboard company. Despite these expenditures and continued losses from USA Today, Morton said Gannett could comfortably afford a $3 billion or $4 billion acquisition.
But Neuharth apparently has not been able to interest those companies in selling to Gannett. CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman confirmed in an interview yesterday that he had met recently with Neuharth. But he said the discussions were not very serious and Gannett was just one of several companies that have contacted CBS in recent months as possible alternatives to a takeover by Atlanta cable-television and sports magnate Ted Turner. CBS has apparently passed on the advances of Gannett and others, all of which were unsolicited, sources said.