Tick But No Tock

The FCC's shot clock on the Sinclair-Tribune deal has yet to restart now four months after it was stopped ostensibly in anticipation of Sinclair refiling the deal, which Sinclair has now done three times and counting.  

Even after the FCC re-starts the clock, it will be several weeks more until the FCC can render a decision on the merger because whatever winds up being the final version of the deal will be put out for a new round of comment and reply.

FCC chair Ajit Pai wasn't predicting last week when the FCC's vetting of the Sinclair-Tribune deal would be complete, but suggested at a Hill hearing Thursday (April 26) that the FCC had not yet had a chance to fully evaluate it.

Sinclair filed its latest, and expected to be last, amendment to the deal last week.

So, if the FCC has had at least three new variations of the deal to consider, why has the clock not restarted.

The best guess is it is waiting for that final version, though suggesting staffers aren't looking at each version as it comes in, which should trigger a restart of the clock on vetting the deal, seems a bit odd.

Here is a brief history of time, Sinclair-Tribune shot clock style:

The FCC's informal 180-day transaction clock (a target sometimes missed by a mile) started on July 6, when the FCC released the public notice establishing the comment cycle for the deal (which had actually been filed with the FCC June 26 after the deal was struck May 8).

Related: Pai Won't Commit to Delaying Sinclair Decision For Court Decision

The clock was paused Oct. 18 to allow for more comments on a follow-up request for info the FCC issued to Sinclair and Tribune Sept. 13. The clock restarted Nov. 2 only to be stopped (the FCC likes "paused") again Jan. 4 after Sinclair signaled it would be refiling the deal.

But that was four months ago and the clock is still stuck on day 167 even though it has been 300-plus days since the FCC began reviewing the deal and even though the FCC has ostensibly been reviewing each of the succeeding variations on the theme of Sinclair buying Tribune, variations meant to make it more palatable to the Justice Department's review for antitrust issues.

One former top FCC official described the clock as meaningless and pointless, created after pressure from Capitol Hill to get merger reviews done quicker, but in reality "it has never worked right," the official said.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.