Koch Brothers are said to back Meredith bid to buy Time Inc.

Gerry Smith Bloomberg

Charles and David Koch, the billionaire U.S. industrialist brothers, are backing publisher and broadcaster Meredith Corp.'s revived bid to purchase Time Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Kochs have tentatively agreed to support Meredith's offer with an equity injection of more than $500 million, the person said, confirming an earlier New York Times report. The person asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

An email to the billionaire brothers' business, Koch Industries Inc., wasn't immediately answered. A Time representative declined to comment and an email to Meredith outside of business hours wasn't immediately returned.

A merger could help both magazine publishers team up on ad sales. Like its competitors, Time is struggling to reinvent itself as print advertising dries up and the lion's share of digital advertising dollars goes to Facebook and Google. The magazine owner has spent months restructuring its business and replacing senior management, hoping to persuade advertisers to pour money into its titles, which include iconic publications such as Fortune, Sports Illustrated and People.

A deal involving the Kochs would be likely to raise new questions about political influence on the news media, especially a hallowed journalistic outlet like Time magazine, founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. The billionaire brothers have spent decades building a network of wealthy political donors who pledge money to conservative causes and their advocacy groups.

This would be the third time Meredith has attempted to acquire Time since 2013. The publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Shape and Parents was one of a handful of bidders who made competing offers for Time earlier this year, but the deal was scrapped. Meredith had offered as much as $2 billion at the time before lowering its bid, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Time shares closed at $12.65 in New York trading Wednesday, valuing the publisher at $1.26 billion. Meredith was valued at $2.42 billion.

Charles Koch
and David Koch are tied for 12th place on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index of the world's richest people, each with a net worth of about $47 billion. The brothers own Koch Industries, a Wichita, Kansas-based conglomerate with businesses from oil and ranching to farming and electrical component manufacturing.

Once part of Time Warner Inc., Time Inc. was spun out as a separate unit in 2014 after talks to merge the division with Meredith collapsed, a move that skyrocketed debt to $1.37 billion from $38 million and spurred concern that a narrower focus on magazines would hinder growth prospects.

In May this year, the owner of Sports Illustrated and People announced plans to sell some magazines or other properties as it tries to push ahead with a digital strategy.

Jack Griffin, who served as Time's chief executive officer until his ouster in 2011, was a former executive at Meredith. The Des Moines-based company was founded in 1902 by Edwin Thomas Meredith, who began publishing Successful Farmer magazine that year.