Apple’s $1 trillion market cap and solid history of acquisitions have made it a nearly ideal investor for smaller companies, and now iHeartMedia is looking to the company’s wallet — or just its interest — to save its flagging business from bankruptcy. The Financial Times reports today that Apple has spoken with iHeartMedia about potentially buying a stake in the company, though there’s reason to suspect that the deal may be just wishful thinking.
Previously known as Clear Channel, 10-year-old iHeartMedia runs iHeartRadio, broadcasting live across a network of 850 traditional local stations in the United States, as well as aggregating its own and rival broadcast radio channels for online listening. Though the growth of Apple’s iPod helped kill demand for conventional radio throughout the mid-2000s, iHeartMedia chased what was left of the business, building listening apps for over 90 devices. That process left the company bankrupt as of March 2018, however, with $20 billion in debt.
According to the Financial Times, iHeartMedia is in the early stages of talks with Apple for an equity stake worth “millions of dollars,” though neither company responded to requests for comment. Even so, the report speculates that a deal with iHeartMedia would bring Apple Music’s Beats 1 station to broadcast radios in cars and kitchens, increase Apple Music awareness with older audiences, and help Apple win exclusive music deals that might otherwise go to Spotify.
Unlike some of Apple’s rivals, iHeartMedia greeted the 2015 arrival of Apple Music with respect, saying that there was “definitely a place for both of us” in the music arena. At the time, iHeartMedia saw itself as a curator of music, while Apple was primarily a seller, though the market has evolved since then. Both are now competing primarily for streaming listeners — just using different mixes of audio streaming technologies and curation.
Though a deal between the companies certainly isn’t impossible, it would be fair to characterize it as a long shot. Rumors of Apple interest in all sorts of radio ventures have previously gone nowhere, leaving large potential partners such as SiriusXM to go it alone in a steadily declining market. iHeartMedia’s reach might be more appealing, but its precarious financial situation doesn’t exactly make it an ideal target for investment. Regardless, floating Apple’s name as a potential investor could attract the attention iHeartMedia needs to survive its current straits, bringing another deep-pocketed suitor to the table instead.