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T-Mobile, Dish, Comcast Top Buyers in $10B Spectrum Grab

Washington — The Federal Communications Commission released a trove of data on the winners in the broadcast incentive spectrum auction, and one of the big takeaways was that almost all broadcasters signaled they are staying in the business while reaping their collective $10 billion payout.

That includes NBC’s flagship New York station, WNBC, which agreed to sell its spectrum for $214 million. If that sounds low, it is because WNBC programming will move to WNJU, sharing with the co-owned Telemundo affiliate, so NBC gets the payout and continues broadcasting.

NBC will do the same in top 10 markets Philadelphia and Chicago, where it also has duopolies, but in those cases the Telemundo station spectrum was sold and that programming will move to WCAU and WMAQ, respectively.

Comcast-NBCUniversal was also a buyer in the auction, paying $1.7 billion for wireless spectrum, ranking it number three behind T-Mobile ($8 billion) and Dish ($6.2 billion). Verizon did not bid.

Fox also scored with sales of WPWR spectrum in Chicago ($161 million), WDCA ($119 million) in Washington and WMYT in Charlotte, N.C. ($74 million), with sharing plans in those cities as well.

While 2,200 TV stations were eligible for the auction, 1,800 were still in the running after the FCC knocked out the 400 or so stations whose spectrum it didn’t need. The commission won’t say how many stations actually participated, since it is keeping the losers confidential for another two years, but of those, the FCC only had to pay 175.

Of those, 145 are giving up their spectrum, but 133 (92%) of those have signaled plans to strike sharing agreements with other stations, so that while their spectrum will be gone, they will still be on the air. Of the remaining 30 stations getting paid, 29 are moving from UHF to VHF channels, and one got paid to move from a high V to a low V.

So, only 12 stations said they were giving up their spectrum but did not indicate they were going to try to stay on the air via sharing.

The highest price paid for a station was $304 million for Trinity Broadcasting’s WWTO in Chicago — Trinity cashed in in a number of markets.

OTA, the Michael Dell-owned group, also sold more than a half dozen stations’ worth of spectrum, while Nexstar’s tally was 10 stations.

Also of note, CBS got $10 million for KCCO in Minneapolis, but plans to share, and Gray sold WAGT in Augusta, Ga., the subject of a high-profile battle between Media General and Schurz, for $40 million, which is actually one of the few stations going off the air rather than sharing.

To check out all the TV station winners and prices, visit

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.