The offer, which both Reuters and Bloomberg reported to be worth in the range of $44 to $45 a share, values Tribune at about $4 billion based on last Friday’s closing stock price. Fox had teamed with private equity firm Blackstone on a planned bid and No. 2 station group Nexstar was also in the hunt, but Sinclair now appears to be intent on closing the deal and edging out its rivals.
After certain divestitures and accounting for a new push at the now-Republican-controlled FCC to loosen regulations on station ownership, the combination would give Sinclair a portfolio of stations serving 42% of U.S. households. (Currently the ownership cap is 39%.)
Sinclair also has strong conservative roots and ties to the Trump Administration. Based in the Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley, Sinclair has 173 stations in 81 markets, mostly in smaller cities or in rural sections of the country. Tribune’s 42 stations are in many markets where Sinclair has never been, including New York, L.A. and Chicago. It also owns WGN America, a general entertainment cable network known for shows like Underground, and has a stake in the Travel Channel.
Having a presence in larger markets could bring more scrutiny to some of Sinclair’s tactics, which have drawn criticism over the years. Interviews Donald Trump did with swing-state stations owned by Sinclair are credited with helping him win the election. Its stations also air right-leaning commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, who joined Sinclair this spring after a stint as a White House spokesman.
The Sinclair-Tribune deal, which sources told Bloomberg and Reuters could be announced as early as Monday but could also still fall apart, may be the first in a wave of station deals as local TV, still lucrative but vulnerable in an on-demand, cord-shaving world, heads down an uncertain path. Sinclair years ago helped popularize the concept of “super-groups,” which achieve economies of scale by centralizing local TV news programming and technology, and a Tribune deal may not be the company’s last trip to the altar.