FCC Approves Tweaked Multi-Billion-Dollar Apollo Purchase of Cox, Northwest Stations

The FCC's Media Bureau has approved the multi-billion-dollar sale of Cox and Northwest TV and radio stations to Apollo Global Management's newly formed Terrier Media on the promise of some tweaks to align the deal with a court decision throwing out some FCC broadcast dereg. 

That decision becomes effective Nov. 27 and reinstates the newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV cross-ownership rules among others. The deal changes will not be accomplished by then, but the FCC bureau gave the deal some slack while denying challenges to the deal, filed by Common Cause, United Church of Christ, and the American Television Alliance, based in part on the fact that it now ran afoul of the court's remade regulatory landscape. 

"We recognize that the television applicants may be in violation of certain of the broadcast multiple and cross-ownership rules following consummation as a result of the Prometheus IV decision," said the bureau. "However, we believe the unique circumstances of this case, specifically the television applicants’ specific commitments in the October 2019 amendment and the timing of the Third Circuit’s decision, justify a brief 30-day period from consummation to come into compliance with these revised rules." 

The deal comprises Terrier's (Apollo's) purchase of $384 million worth of TV stations from Northwest and $3.1 billion worth of TV and radio stations from Cox, saying it was in the public interest. 

At the same time, but in a separate declaratory ruling, it granted foreign control of up to 100% of Terrier. That petition was unopposed and the FCC said it was in the public interest because it would "provide the companies greater access to foreign capital thereby strengthening the broadcast industry," the argument it has made for loosening the foreign ownership rules generally. 

To square the deal with the court decision, "Northwest will surrender the licenses for one of its stations in Syracuse and Yuma not acquired by Terrier Media and will transfer all of the programming to the corresponding acquired station in each market to be carried on a primary or multicast channel." 

To square the deal with the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, Terrier said it is prepared to change the publication frequency of three Cox newspapers in Ohio so that will only publish three times a week.  

"FCC rules prohibit Apollo from acquiring two of the 'top-four' rated television stations in a single market,"said Yosef Getachew of Common Cause. "Apollo has agreed to sell stations in two markets to avoid application of this rule. At the same time, though, it will transfer the programming of the 'top-four' rated television stations to a multicast stream on the stations it is keeping. Although Apollo won't technically violate the rules, the harm remains the same. They will own two 'top-four' broadcasts in these markets, which will lead to higher prices for consumers. It is far past time for Congress to intervene on behalf of consumers. We urge it to do so as it considers STELAR renewal."

"The FCC continues to ignore its public interest mandate to promote localism, competition, and diversity in our media," said Getachew. "We know the history of private equity firms buying up media – reporter layoffs, consolidated newsrooms, and less robust local news. Nothing in this deal will enhance local news or offer any other public interest benefits. 

"It’s also particularly egregious that the FCC approved this deal days before the Third Circuit’s mandate is issued, reinstating media ownership rules that Apollo would violate. The FCC itself acknowledged as much when it approved the merger. This continues a troubling trend of the FCC turning a blind eye to the Court’s decision in granting mergers that contain rule violations." 

“We remain skeptical of last-minute pledges and unenforceable commitments from T-Mobile - a company that has proven itself untrustworthy and hostile to workers’ rights," said Debbie Goldman of the Communications Workers of America. "The news out of Nevada and Texas should give little comfort to workers and consumers in either state. T-Mobile continues to rely on unenforceable commitments designed more to generate favorable publicity ahead of the state trial, rather than addressing the substantive antitrust issues and harms to workers and consumers that remain part of this proposed merger."

For example, how will the Nevada AG monitor and enforce the jobs commitments? He can't -- without an independent union representing the New T-Mobile employees. T-Mobile continues to refuse to respect its employees right to organize free from employer intimidation. Until T-Mobile makes that commitment, their jobs promises are without solid foundation.”

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.