Sinclair Tweaks Tribune Deal

Sinclair’s deal to purchase Tribune Media’s stations appeared to take another step toward completion last week when the lawyers for both parties submitted yet another revision to the merger, the second in less than a week.

Sinclair signaled it will sell one of the stations in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York market in Pennsylvania, where just last week it had said it wanted to try to convince the FCC to let it own two of the top four stations.

That would have been forbidden under the former local ownership rules, but the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai voted in November to allow for such combos on a case-by-case basis.

Sinclair likely decided to shed the additional station at the behest of the Justice Department, with which it is still haggling over station spin-offs, according to one analyst speaking on background tied to retransmission power and control of ad inventory in a market.

The company is still seeking FCC permission to own two of the top four in Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem (N.C.) and Indianapolis, but reducing the number of such requests from three to two could speed the FCC’s review, which goes beyond antitrust and ad share to public interest benefits.

Sinclair also asked the FCC to grant it a waiver to operate the stations in Greensboro and Indianapolis under a waiver until it has decided whether or not it can own both stations in both markets, rather than put them in a trust pending that decision, as last week’s amendment proposed.

Operating the stations under a waiver would make it easier than having to extricate them from the trust if the FCC grants Sinclair an ownership exemption.

Presumably, the filing will result in the restart of the FCC’s merger review clock, which was paused on day 167.

After last week’s amended filing, cable and satellite operators opposed to the deal — in part because of the perceived enhanced retransmission consent muscle a Sinclair-Tribune would wield — called for Sinclair to refile the deal with more clarity. The new filing did not fill the bill, according to the Coalition to Save Local Media, whose members include the American Cable Association, Dish and One America News Network.

“This week, Sinclair once again revised its proposal on how it plans to comply with media ownership rules in a filing with the FCC,” the coalition said in a statement. “Disappointingly, Sinclair’s filing remains just another smoke and mirrors plan that leaves many more questions than answers.”

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.