Digital First Media to Buy OC Register and Riverside Press Enterprise

Col (5)

What: Digital First Media, owner of the Los Angeles Daily News, will purchase Freedom Communications' Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise.
Why it matters: Tribune Publishing won the bid offering US$56 million in cash for the business of Freedom Communications and its owned real estate in Santa Ana, California and Riverside, California. But a federal judge filed a complaint due to monopoly concerns.

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Freedom Communications, the bankrupt owner of the Orange County Register and Press-Enterprise of Riverside, has decided to sell to Digital First Media after a judge blocked a higher bid by Tribune Publishing, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, a Freedom attorney said Saturday.

Freedom will ask a federal bankruptcy judge on Monday to confirm and approve the sale to Digital First, which owns the Los Angeles Daily News and eight other daily papers in the greater Los Angeles area. The deal will close by March 31, Freedom attorney William Lobel said in an email.

Digital First was the runner-up bidder for Freedom at $45.5 million (Tribune had bid US$ 56 million).
Freedom filed for bankruptcy last year following a failed effort led by investor Aaron Kushner, who bought the group in 2012 and invested heavily in print, leaving aside digital media.

The prospective takeover of the Freedom properties is Digital First's second major move in California in the last three weeks. The Denver-based company earlier announced it would consolidate six daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area into two, one serving Oakland and the East Bay and the other Silicon Valley. In the East Bay, The Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, The Daily Review and The Argus will become the new East Bay Times. The San Jose Mercury News and the San Mateo County Times will become the Mercury News.

Government Files Monopoly Complaint

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking a planned sale to Tribune Publishing, owner of the Los Angeles Times, over antitrust concerns. According to the government’s complaint, filed in Los Angeles federal court, The Times and the Register together account for 98 percent of newspaper sales in Orange County and the Los Angeles Times and Freedom’s newspapers together account for 81 percent of English-language newspaper sales in Riverside County. The Tribune Company also owns the San Diego Tribune. Tribune’s acquisition of its most significant competitor would give it a monopoly over newspaper sales in each county and allow it to increase subscription prices, raise advertising rates and invest less to maintain the quality of its newspapers.

Spanish-language Properties

The unlikely purchase of the OC Register and the The Press Enterprise by Tribune Publishing also blocks plans to expand Tribune's Spanish-language newspaper footprint, recently expanded with the renaming of Enlace San Diego to Hoy San Diego, to Riverside and Orange County.
The Press Enterprise's Spanish-language weekly La Prensa and the Orange County Register's Spanish-language weekly Excelsior will now be part of Digital First Media.


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