Orange County Register Owner Freedom Communications' Papers, TV Stations for Sale

Update, November 18, 5:20 p.m.: A media industry watcher suggests Freedom Communications may have a strategy behind what would seem to be a counter-intuitive move to sell the modern-day equivalent of buggy whips, daily newspapers.

"Might the strategy be to sell some of the properties, keep others and reposition the company by investing the proceeds in digital ventures?" Rick Edmonds writes on Poynter Online's The Biz Blog.

In "Why Orange County Register, Freedom Communications, TV Stations for Sale?" Edmonds shares these "tea leaves" to support the theory:

  • When transitional CEO Burl Osborne, former chairman of the Associated Press and longtime publisher of the Dallas Morning News, left Freedom, he was replaced by Mitchell Stern, who once ran Fox Television Stations, Inc. Earlier this month, Stern named another former Fox executive, Thomas Herwitz, to run the TV station group. Freedom is reportedly asking $400-500 million for its broadcast properties.
  • Larry Kramer, the digital entrepreneur who built MarketWatch, which Dow Jones ultimately acquired for $500 million, joined the Freedom board this summer.
  • Freedom has been aggressively developing mobile phone apps for several years, and the Register was one of the first regional papers this summer to pilot an iPad app as well.
Then again, Edmonds offers, a sale could signal a "California consolidation play":

  • Industry chit-chat has suggested the huge South California market could be ripe for consolidation. Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times, and the San Diego Union-Tribune was sold last year to a private group headed by Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills. Dean Singleton's MediaNews group owns a number of suburban Los Angeles papers.
  • While the pace of mergers and acquisitions has been picking up lately, none of any scale have taken shape among newspapers or television stations. A major deal would break a four-year period in which consolidation stopped, and a number of the biggest companies--like Gannett and McClatchy--have disposed of some of their newspapers.<
Hey, as long as Mickadeit gets lost in the shuffle, go for it. (I kid, Frankie, I kid.)

Original post, November 18, 3:12 p.m.: Now that Orange County Register owner Freedom Communications has emerged from bankruptcy, the Irvine-based media company is considering offers on its newspapers and television stations.

(Subliminal message to OC Weekly's Village Voice Media overlords: Let's ditch the company Christmas party, forgo the no-deductible bikini waxes and pass a coffee can around the newsroom so we can buy out our brothers and sistahs on Grand Avenue!) "Freedom Communications Inc. says the offers have come during a review of strategic options for the company, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in April," reports the Associated Press. "The company would not name the potential buyers or give details about which properties have drawn interest."

Freedom, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in September 2009, was taken over by lenders and private equity firms that agreed to cut its debts to $325 million from $770 million. The Santa Ana-based Reg is the flagship newspaper for the company that owns 100 daily and weekly newspapers, several magazines and eight TV stations around the country.

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