Freedom to Begin Meeting With Buyers

By: Gary Gentile, AP Business Writer

(AP) Executives at Freedom Communications will start meeting next week with potential buyers interested in one of the country’s last family-owned media companies.

The company, whose properties include The Orange County Register, received 26 preliminary expressions of interest during a first round of bids, according to a memo distributed to shareholders.

Those proposals have been narrowed to an undetermined number. Management will make presentations to the remaining contenders starting Monday. A committee consisting of non-family members on Freedom’s board will then narrow the list further and request formal bids from those remaining.

The bidders include traditional media companies and investment firms. Some want to buy all of Freedom, while others seek various parts, according to the shareholder memo.

Besides the Register, Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom owns 27 other daily newspapers, 37 weeklies, and eight television stations.

It is not known which companies have submitted proposals, but likely bidders include Gannett Co. Inc., which publishes USA Today and has made its interest public. Media analysts estimate the entire company could sell for $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Among the bidders is a group of family members that is working with two equity investment companies. The younger members of the Hoiles family want to keep the company in family hands, but to do so need to raise enough cash to buy out other family members who want to sell their shares.

Freedom’s full board of directors will receive an update Aug. 11. A final vote of shareholders could come as early as September.

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