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E.W. Scripps scales up with $2.65 billion Berkshire-backed deal for ION Media

(Reuters) - E.W. Scripps Co SSP.O said on Thursday it has agreed to buy broadcaster ION Media for $2.65 billion (2.08 billion pounds) as the TV station owner, backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc BRKa.N, scales up operations to counter a rise in online streaming.

Shares of Scripps jumped nearly 23%, with analysts saying that bringing Berkshire into the deal is being seen as the “best seal of approval” in the equity market.

Berkshire will make a $600 million preferred equity investment in Scripps to finance the deal and will receive a warrant to buy up to 23.1 million shares of Scripps.

“We expect investor interest in SSP to accelerate on the back of this deal,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst Steven Cahall said.

The U.S. broadcast media sector has seen a flurry of mergers in recent years as advertising dollars shift to internet and as a growing number of young viewers cancel cable subscriptions in favor of watching content online.

As part of the deal, Scripps said its units Katz networks and Newsy will combine with ION Media to create a national television networks business.

This combination will help Katz, which currently pays fees to other broadcasters for distribution, to save on carriage fee, with an estimated cost synergy of up to $120 million a year, the TV station owner said.

ION Media has the fifth-largest average primetime audience among all U.S. cable-carried networks and reaches more than 100 million homes through over-the-air and pay TV platforms.

Methuselah Advisors and Morgan Stanley & Co acted as financial advisers to Scripps on the deal, while BakerHostetler and Brooks Pierce served as its legal co-counsel.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Arun Koyyur

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