Sinclair Tweaks Tribune Deal, Again

Sinclair TV station map

HUNT VALLEY, Md. – In its second major tweak, Sinclair last week amended its June 2017 deal to purchase Tribune Media's stations and will no longer seek permission to own two of the top four TV stations in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Pa. market.

When Sinclair filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February, it said that Sinclair owns CBS affiliate WHP-TV in Harrisburg and that Tribune owns Fox affiliate WPMT in York. At the time of that filing, Sinclair argued that the public interest benefits of owning both stations outweighed any potential reduction in competition.

But now Sinclair will move ahead with divesting one of those stations, a move that could speed up the FCC review process for the acquisition.

Insiders say selling one of the Harrisburg stations, versus keeping both, came as a request from the Justice Department, whose antitrust review examines share of ad revenue in a market. 

Sinclair is still seeking permission to own two of the top four stations in Indianapolis, but according to Bloomberg News, Sinclair has also moved ahead with sales agreements for the Chicago and New York City stations owned by Tribune.

Sinclair recently disclosed plans to offload both of those stations to comply with the FCC’s national audience reach cap, which is set at 39 percent. In both instances, the stations are being sold to close associates of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith.

Sinclair is selling WGN-TV in Chicago for $60 million to a newly formed company headed by Steven Fader, CEO of Atlantic Automotive, a Maryland auto dealership group in which Smith holds a controlling interest. The company is also selling WPIX-TV in New York for $15 million to Cunningham Broadcasting, which is owned by the estate of Smith’s mother, Carolyn Smith. Both deals include an option for Sinclair to buy back the stations at a later date.

Sinclair currently owns 193 television stations and would add another 42 through its deal to acquire Tribune.

Sinclair’s latest filing may signal that the deal will not be closing in the near-term, given that the DOJ is still vetting it and the FCC will now have to put the new deal out for public comment and consider that feedback before it decides.

The FCC last month paused its review of the deal, and its informal 180-day shot clock (on day 167, the second such pause in the Sinclair-Tribune review), in anticipation of the refiled – and now again refiled – amended deal.