Nexstar Offloads 19 Stations En Route to Tribune Close

Nexstar Media Group — edging toward approval of the $6.4 billion purchase of Tribune Media stations that will make it the biggest U.S. TV station group — has taken a key step by agreeing to sell 19 stations in two separate all-cash deals, to Tegna and E.W. Scripps, for a total of $1.3 billion.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook (fourth from l.) is greeted on a visit to newly acquired station WGN Chicago.

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook (fourth from l.) is greeted on a visit to newly acquired station WGN Chicago.

After it absorbs Tribune, sometime in the third quarter (pending approvals), Nexstar will have around 200 stations covering 39% of TV households, generating nearly $2 billion annually in retransmission-consent revenue.

The sold-off stations were earmarked for sale in an effort to remain in compliance with Federal Communications Commission ownership rules and are all contingent on the Tribune deal closing. Tegna bought the largest chunk of stations — 11 properties in eight markets including Memphis, Tennessee and Hartford, Connecticut, for $740 million.

Scripps agreed to buy eight stations, including WPIX in New York (which Nexstar has a right to buy back later), for $580 million in cash. Nexstar still has two other stations in Indianapolis it has said it wants to divest: WISH and WNDY.

Tegna’s acquisitions boosts its total number of stations to 60 stations in 49 markets.

Scripps will increase its footprint to 59 stations in 42 markets, covering 30% of TV homes. Scripps will pay $75 million for WPIX, which Nexstar can buy back during a period running from March 31, 2020, through the end of 2021 if the government increases the ownership cap.

“I’ve given up trying to guess what is going to happen there in the regulatory environment,” E.W. Scripps CEO Adam Symson said during a call with analysts discussing the March 20 transaction. “We look at this as a station we’re acquiring and we’re pleased to be running a station in New York City.”

Later, Scripps Local Media president Brian Lawlor said although WPIX is a CW affiliate, it acts more like a Big Four broadcaster with seven hours of news per day and big-name sporting events: WPIX is the broadcast home of baseball’s Yankees and Mets.

“This is a big strong television station that competes in the largest market in America,” Lawlor said.