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Ascend doubles up on deals

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In a pair of moves that more than doubled the size of the company, Ascend Media has acquired SynerMed Communications, a producer of continuing medical education programs, and Exhibitor Visibility World, which handles publishing and integrated marketing for medical and health care events.

Financial terms of the SynerMed and EVW deals, which closed Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, respectively, were not disclosed.

SynerMed, which generates an estimated $20 million in annual revenue, collaborates with leading medical institutions to produce videos, CDs, CD-ROMs, Web sites, print publications and events for physicians and other health care professionals in a variety of specialties.

Cam Bishop, president-CEO of Overland Park, Kan.-based Ascend, said the SynerMed properties dovetail nicely with Ascend's Event Media division, formed last year when Ascend acquired Atwood Publishing, a publisher of show dailies, directories and guides for medical trade events.

"We work with more than 40 health care trade associations and event producers, and SynerMed gives us additional expertise we can leverage," Bishop said. "In fact, SynerMed had been a customer of our event group, and there's a lot of synergy between our customer bases. Additionally, it gives us a new revenue stream that's well diversified."

Roland DeSilva, managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips, said: "It wasn't a huge deal by any means, but SynerMed helps solidify Ascend's position in the thriving medical and health care markets. [SynerMed] seemed to be under-marketed, but under Cam Bishop's purview it looks like it will have an excellent future."

Bishop said the EVW acquisition, though financially the smaller of the two deals, will have a larger strategic impact on Ascend. "EVW was a direct-and very successful-competitor to our Event Media business," he said. "They have an excellent staff with good ideas and a very prestigious list of medical and health care event clients." Those clients include the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Emergency Physicians.

DeSilva said he expects Ascend-and its private equity backers, J.P. Morgan & Partners and Veronis Suhler Stevenson-to be in the market for more deals. "Ascend was an early bidder for Thomson Media, but that was a huge platform for the company to take on," he said.

Bishop acknowledged that the bidding for Thomson Media, which Investcorp has agreed to buy for $350 million, got too "healthy" for Ascend. But he said he is committed to finding other properties to help him achieve his goal of growing Ascend into a company that generates $100 million to $150 million in annual revenue. With the two acquisitions, Bishop said Ascend now generates "$50 million-plus" in annual revenue.

Bishop said Ascend will continue to focus on its core markets of medical and health care, but-as the company's interest in Thomson Media confirmed-he also wants to expand into the financial services media sector. "We have a very significant deal we expect to close in the next 60 days, so stay tuned," he said. 

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