Despite the continuing financial woes of United Press International Inc., about a dozen investors have expressed interest in buying the bankrupt 70-year-old wire service.
From a cable television company to a data processing firm to a former government employe, a wide variety of investors told UPI's investment advisers earlier this week that they are interested in buying the company.
UPI officials and representatives of the Wire Service Guild, which represents UPI's 750 domestic employes, said they have taken heart, believing that the wide range of interests means that the troubled news organization is a viable one that can be saved.
"UPI is a household word, an institution that attracts attention," said John Morton, a financial analyst who specializes in the media business. Thus, he said, it is not surprising that the company, although unprofitable, is drawing so much interest.
Yet, Morton added, "the significant thing is that you don't see any newspaper-oriented company coming forward." As a result, Morton expressed skepticism that the current bidders could save UPI. "You almost always can find a buyer for dying newspapers. Unfortunately, it doesn't really change anything," he said, pointing to Time Inc.'s unsuccessful attempt to turn The Washington Star into a thriving newspaper.
The confirmed bidders include:
*Alan Patricof Associates Inc., a New York venture capital company that founded New York Magazine in 1966. Patricof made his bid with the Pritzker family of Chicago, which owns the Hyatt hotel chain and Braniff airlines. Patricof said that he and the Pritzkers plan to organize an investment group that will include several media firms, with no one interest holding majority control. The group's goal is to put UPI back into the black and then sell stock in the wire service to the public.
Tele-Communciations Inc., a leading cable television company, based in Denver, with operations in 43 states. TCI, which is also an investor in the proposed cable television system for the District of Columbia, believes UPI "would be an interesting addition to the business we're in.. . . and add information programming" to their business, said Peter Barton, TCI vice president.
*Comtex Scientific Corp., which already has a controversial joint venture with UPI under which it can resell UPI's news product to the electronic publishing industry. Under its proposal, Comtex would be joined by a division of United Telecommunications Inc., which, although not an equity partner, would provide an advanced worldwide telecommunications network for UPI. Ingham Becker & Co. Inc. is the group's investment banker.
*Robert Cunningham, a CIA employe from 1956 to 1964 and former owner of the Daily American, an English-language newspaper in Rome. Cunningham wants to use the wire service's international news service in a daily supplement, that would be supported by national advertisements, to be supplied to local newspapers around the country. Cunningham said he is joined by unidentified foreign investors who are willing to put up $20 million.
*Sam Phillips, a Massachusetts entrepeneur who publishes the Robb Report, a "magazine for connoisseurs" that reports on fine art, real estate and antiques. Phillips, who also owns Wilhold, which produces hair-care products such as bobby pins and barrettes, is offering about $21 million.
*Buert SerVaas, chairman of Curtis Publishing Co. in Indianapolis, who bid between $13.9 and $17.9 million for UPI earlier this summer as part of an unidentified investor group. The same group has submitted a new expression of interest, but no firm bid.
*Joe E. Russo, chairman of The Russo Cos., a billion dollar real estate development company in Houston, who has assembled a group of investors, including individuals with news experience.
*Max Hugel, the CIA's former chief of covert operations, with a group of "very large telecommunciations companies," which Hugel declined to name.
Also reported making a bid was Gulf and Western Industries, a conglomerate whose holdings include Simon & Shuster, Paramount Pictures and Madison Square Garden. A company spokesman declined to confirm or acknowledge the company's interest in UPI.
Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting System Inc. is still reviewing the company prospectus issued by UPI's investment advisers, a spokesman said.
The Wire Service Guild, which is searching for a buyer for UPI, also presented a proposal that could lead to a purchase of UPI either by employes alone or in a joint venture.