2 OOH Firms Go Up for Sale

NEW YORK Two of the nation’s largest digital out-of-home media companies are on the block. Cinema rep firm Screenvision and Premier Retail Networks, which operates in-store digital nets, were put up for sale Thursday by their owner, Thomson.

Faced with mounting debt and the likelihood it would breach covenants, the Paris-based company said it would attempt to divest businesses that don’t fit in with its core media technology businesses. Among those are PRN, which it owns outright, and Screenvision, in which Thomson holds a 50 percent stake. All told, Thomson is targeting divestitures equal to about $1.3 billion in 2008 sales, based on the current rate of exchange.

National CineMedia (NCM) would seem to be the logical buyer for Screenvision. Together, the two rep firms account for 82 percent of the cinema business.

But during its 2009 guidance call with investors yesterday, NCM wasn’t aware Screenvision was on the block, and the firm’s chief executive gave a predictable response when asked about a possible buy. “I’m always interested in looking at attractive or accretive acquisition,” said Kurt Hall, chairman, president and CEO of NCM. Hall also noted that it could be difficult for Thomson to sell a 50 percent stake. (ITV, the U.K.’s biggest TV network, owns the other half of Screenvision.)

As for PRN, a number of companies would be logical prospective buyers. They include CBS Outernet, which operates in-store grocery networks and is expanding into retail, and NBC Everywhere, which has also identified digital OOH as a growing media space.