iHeartMedia acquires Triton Digital from Scripps

Behemoth audio company iHeartMedia will buy leading digital audio technology provider Triton Digital from media juggernaut E.W.Scripps, exactly 28 months after Scripps acquired Triton. The deal further fortifies iHeart’s imposing array of audio production and monetization platforms across radio, streaming, and podcasting, while closing out Scripps’ short-lived deep dive into digital audio.

The cost of acquisition is $230-million. Scripps will use the money to pay down debt.

“Adding Triton Digital and its industry leading services to the iHeartMedia audio ecosystem establishes iHeartMedia as the only company with a total audio advertising technology and data solution,” said Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, Inc.

Triton Digital services an extensive client portfolio that ranges across 50 countries. The company’s SaaS tools represent a solutions suite covering streaming, podcasting, and measurement. The company’s two lines of business focus on advertising infrastructure and measurement, including a content delivery system that distributes digital audio streams and podcasts to listeners while dynamically inserting ads and measurement business that tracks audience and creates ratings reports.

“We are thrilled to join the iHeartMedia family,” said Neal Schore, CEO of Triton Digital. “We remain deeply committed to providing the world’s broadcasters, podcasters, and online audio publishers with continuously innovated, best-in-class solutions and services for online audio management, advertising, and consumption data.”

iHeart’s Digital Build-out

The past two and a half years have been a span of ambitious digital audio acquisitions by iHeartMedia, the largest commercial radio enterprise in the U.S.

  • In September 2018 iHeart bought podcast network Stuff Media, months before Spotify began its acquisitions run with Gimlet Media. (Conal Byrne, head of Stuff, became the president of iHeartPodcast Network.)
  • iHeart followed up with the purchase of Jelli, the leading programmatic advertising platform for broadcast radio.
  • Last October saw iHeart grab podcast publishing and long-tail advertising platform Voxnest, which includes hosting/tech brand Spreaker.

Scripps Closes a Book

The sale marks an end of a phase for Scripps, which has now divested itself of Triton Digital (acquired in October 2018) and the Stitcher/Midroll/Earwolf podcast content and advertising cluster (acquired across 2015 and 2016 and sold to Sirius XM in July of last year).

For Scripps, regardless of any digital audio ambitions it held during its attention-getting brand buy-up, now publicly positions its history as a series of strategic investments for the benefit of shareholders. It’s a coherent message, as the company has realized financial gains with all of them.

“The sale of Triton creates significant value for Scripps’ shareholders and employees, as we close a chapter on our growth of digital audio businesses through a series of successful transactions and a focus on prudent operations, including our core TV business.”

Scripps sold off its radio properties during this same time period of shifting priorities, and now hunkers down on its core mission of owning and operating TV stations.

Triton’s Winding Path

For Triton Digital, joining iHeartMedia is the latest step, and perhaps the final one, in a winding path.

In February 2018 Triton announced a merger with Audioboom. But the “pending” considerations, which exist in nearly all corporate mergers and usually don’t stop anything, did stop this deal. It was formally dissolved three months later.

The company didn’t have long to wait for an alternative future, as the Scripps acquisition closed uneventfully in December of 2018, six weeks after the original announcement. Scripps CEO Adam Symson said at that time, “The Triton acquisition aligns with the Scripps strategy of fueling company growth by being opportunistic in the marketplace and responsive to the changing needs of media consumers.”

The Landscape

We cannot say that iHeartMedia’s acquisition of Triton Digital further consolidates an increasingly chunky digital audio landscape. It does shift the balance, as Triton moves from one holding company to another, and Scripps exits the framework completely.

Also worth noting that Triton Digital and AdsWizz, two leading competitors which between them carve up a large portion of the streaming audio and podcasting ad-tech infrastructure, are comfortably positioned in two audio juggernauts — AdsWizz in Sirius XM, and Triton Digital now in iHeartMedia.

And not to forget: Sirius XM has been sniffing around iHeartMedia for a few years via Sirius’ parent Liberty Media. That dance has been in progress at least since May 2018.

Brad Hill