Look for Sinclair to file yet another version of its deal to buy the Tribune TV stations with the FCC, the fourth version since it was initially filed with the FCC last spring.
Sinclair has signaled to the FCC that its third version of the deal, submitted earlier this month, would not be the last and that there would be yet another version in a series of re-filings that have come in response to ongoing dialog with the Justice Department, which is apparently still ongoing.
Justice reviews media mergers for antitrust issues (Just ask AT&T and Time Warner), while the FCC is charged with a broader public interest review.
The FCC has yet to restart its informal 180-day shot clock on vetting the deal, currently at 167 days and holding, even though staffers got the resubmitted deal almost three weeks ago, though that clock is only an unofficial guide. For example, it took the commission 327 days to approve Sinclair's purchase of the Allbritton stations back in 2014.
An FCC spokesperson had no comment on the shot clock's inactivity--it was stopped in January at Sinclair's signal of filing number two--but the FCC is likely waiting for the final version of the deal so it is vetting the one that it has signaled it will need to put out for new public comment before making a decision.
Justice is said to be looking at control of ad inventory in some of the markets where Sinclair is adding Tribune stations, which was the reason for the new spin-offs in the most recent version.
In that version, Sinclair said it will sell one of the stations in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York market in Pennsylvania, where just the week before (in version number two) it had said it wanted to try to convince the FCC to let it own two of the top four stations.
The FCC loosened its ownership rules in November to allow such two-of-top-four ownership on a case-by case basis, while retaining the rebuttable presumption that it should be disallowed.
Sinclair has said it will spin off Tribune stations in New York and Chicago, leaving it with no ownership in the top two markets, as a way to address concerns about the size and power of the combined company. But it has also struck services agreements with the new potential owners to help run both stations, which some deal critics see as a way for Sinclair to eat their cake and have it too.
Back in May 2017, Sinclair said it had struck a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune's 42 TV stations.
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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.