Ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker made his another foray back into the news business by agreeing to pay $1.4 billion to snap up a bankrupt British publishing group on Monday.
Zucker’s investment group RedBird IMI will take control of the Telegraph and Spectator publications under a deal to repay the debt owed by the Barclay family to Lloyds Banking Group.
International Media Investments, the investment vehicle backed by Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will also be involved in about half of the deal’s debt financing, the company said.
Lloyds Banking Group seized the UK newspaper group last summer.
RedBird IMI said if the deal were to go forward, it intended to exercise an option to convert debt into ownership of the newspaper group at “an early opportunity”.
If Lloyds agrees to the proposal, the deal will mark the end of the Barclay family ownership of the national newspapers after two decades.
The lender asked a court in the British Virgin Islands to adjourn until early December a hearing that could have liquidated the last of the Barclay family’s holding companies, according to a Financial Times report Monday.
The outlet reported that it is still proceeding with a separate auction process to sell the newspaper as well as sister publication the Spectator magazine.
As part of the deal, Abu-Dhabi-backed IMI would be left with a significant debt holding in the last remaining major business assets owned by the Barclay family. This includes the Very retail and financial services group, Financial Times said, citing sources familiar with discussions.
The deal will be structured as a roughly $750.3 million loan secured against the Telegraph and Spectator. IMI will provide a loan of a similar amount secured against other Barclay family businesses and commercial interests.
RedBird would then have an option to convert the loan secured against the Telegraph and Spectator into equity.
Any transfer of ownership will be the subject of regulatory review, however.
Assuming everything goes as planned, RedBird Capital will take over management and operational responsibility for the titles under the leadership of RedBird IMI chief executive Zucker, the company said.
“RedBird IMI are entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications, and believe that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility,” a rep for RedBird IMI told the PressGazette.
“We are excited by the opportunity to support the titles’ existing management to expand the reach of the titles in the UK, the US and other English-speaking countries,” the rep added.
The statement is meant to assuage fears of influence of the United Arab Emirates on the British newspapers. Recently, a group of Conservative Members of Parliament, writing to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden urging “close scrutiny” of the deal.
In a letter first published in Bloomberg, they wrote over the weekend: “Material influence over a quality national newspaper being passed to a foreign ruler at any time should raise concerns, but given the current geopolitical context, such a deal must be investigated.”
The deal will end months of speculation over a sale to potential bidders, which have included Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail and General Trust, David Montgomery’s National World, German publisher Axel Springer (before it pulled out) and GB News investor Sir Paul Marshall.
The Barclay brothers Sir David and Sir Frederick bought the Telegraph and Spectator titles from Conrad Black in 2004 for $1.3 billion.
Lloyds Banking Group seized the titles from them in June.
Zucker, who was pushed out at CNN in 2022 after failing to reveal his relationship with a co-worker, has been on the hunt for deals. Last month, Zucker scooped up a minority stake in online newsletter Front Office Sports.
He had reportedly also been eyeing other media properties, including the Washington Post, Semafor, Puck and Air Mail — the media company founded by former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.
He has yet to announce any deals with those properties.
Zucker also recently said he would be interested in buying CNN if parent Warner Bros. Discovery put the cable news network up for sale. The Post first reported the news in June.