Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose $3.9 billion offer for Tribune Media remains in the hands of regulators after a stormy 11 months of deliberation, has finalized plans to sell 23 local TV stations in 18 markets.
The move is a major step, though not unexpected since the local TV giant had indicated its road map in a filing in February. Buyers of the stations, which operate in a range of cities including New York, Chicago, Houston and Miami, include Standard Media and Meredith Corp. Sinclair expects the transactions for the station sales to close the same day the Tribune deal is approved, and now estimates it all will be wrapped up by June.
Thinning the portfolio has seemed like an inevitable requirement for regulatory approval, given that the original transaction would have created a behemoth reaching more than 70% of U.S. households. For decades, the maximum reach by one single owner has been 39%, but the Federal Communications Commission has been re-evaluating the cap, part of a sweeping reassessment of regulatory policy across the board. Some observers, including a group of Democratic senators, have accused the FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, of being too cozy with Sinclair.
The company has faced further attention in recent weeks over a push to have local anchors at its stations read company-scripted messages, including a recent prohibition against fake news. The spots, though they were defended as common sense by Sinclair brass, struck many in media as too closely aligned with the dismissive rhetoric of President Donald Trump. The talking points of the Trump White House are often
Sinclair, with its eyes on the Tribune prize, expressed satisfaction with the sales and optimism about its next chapter.
“After a very robust divestiture process, with strong interest from many parties, we have achieved healthy multiples on the stations we are divesting,” said Chris Ripley, President and CEO of Sinclair. “While we continue to believe that we had a strong and supportable rationale for not having to divest stations, we are happy to announce this significant step forward in our plan to create a leading broadcast platform with local focus and national reach. The combined company will continue to advance industry technology, including the Next Generation Broadcast Platform, and to benefit from significant revenue and expense synergies.”
In a memo to Tribune employees, CEO Peter Kern asked for their continued forbearance.
“There is no reason to assume that this change won’t be for the better,” he wrote. “So try to focus, as you have always done, on the business at hand—delivering outstanding local journalism and great content for our audiences and communities, collaborating with your colleagues, and driving results for our customers.”
Seven of the 23 stations have been designated for sale, without a confirmed buyer having been announced. Those include KCPQ in Seattle, KDVR in Denver and WJW in Cleveland.