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Sales Wind Down TV Station Owner Acme

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A Santa Ana-based TV station operator that in the past saw attention as a possible takeover target is quietly going off the air.

Acme Communications Inc. is in the process of selling off its TV stations as part of a larger winding down of the company.

“We have been trying to liquidate the company for the last four to five years,” said Doug Gealy, chief executive at Acme. “The marketplace has presented an opportunity for us to become sellers.”

Acme’s selloff marks an unceremonious end to the company, which had a recent market value of about $17 million for its shares traded on the low-profile Pink Sheets exchange.

The company delisted its shares from Nasdaq in 2008 to cut costs.

Heyday

Acme enjoyed its heyday in the 2000s, when its shares surged on speculation it could be a takeover target of bigger station owners at a time when regional affiliates were in play.

At Acme’s peak, the company had a market value of about $120 million.

Acme now is down to four stations in New Mexico, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Three are CW Television Network affiliates. The fourth is a MyNetworkTV affiliate.

The company recently sold two stations to Providence, R.I.-based Lin TV Corp. for $11.5 million.

Lin bought WIWB-TV in Green Bay, Wis., and WBDT-TV in Dayton, Ohio. Lin, which operates other stations in Green Bay and Dayton, had been running the stations for Acme.

“We created a situation where they went to a joint service agreement in each of those markets and a joint sales agreement where they effectively took over our operations and sales,” Gealy said.

Acme plans to use the proceeds from the station sales to pay off a credit line. Anything beyond that will go to shareholders, Gealy said.

Lin also runs Acme’s two New Mexico stations. But the company isn’t able to buy those under Federal Communications Commission rules that bar one company from owning four stations in a market.

Acme is seeking other buyers for its New Mexico stations and two others in Tennessee and Madison, Wis.

The company’s directors decided four years ago to sell stations as the industry consolidated, according to Gealy.

“We knew we were going to be sellers at some point,” he said. “If you look at the remaining groups, they are growing like crazy, and then there is little Acme sitting out there.”

Tribune

The company once was a buyout target of several big TV operators, including Chicago-based Tribune Co.

“We were approached early on by Tribune, but nothing came of it,” Gealy said.

Tribune, owner of the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2008.

Acme is courting several suitors about possible sales, Gealy said.

“We have expectations that within the next three to six months we will have sold the last of our assets,” he said.

Acme also produces “The Daily Buzz,” a three-hour weekday morning news program that airs on all its stations and some 155 others.

The show also is up for sale and may have a buyer lined up.

Seattle-based Fisher Communications Inc. struck a license and consulting agreement with Acme in April. The deal includes an option for Fisher to buy the show.

“Ultimately we hope they will purchase the entire asset,” Gealy said.

Acme has radically cut back its corporate operations, which now consist largely of Gealy.

“I’m currently the only executive left and I wear eight different hats,” he said.

Tom Allen, Acme’s former chief financial officer, works on a consulting basis for Acme while running operations at Temecula’s Outdoor Channel Holdings Inc.

Two general managers run the company’s remaining stations.

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