Sinclair amends filing for Tribune stations deal

Sinclair Broadcast Group

Sinclair Broadcast Group moved a step closer to taking over "Chicago's Very Own" WGN-Channel 9 and WGN 720-AM Tuesday with an amended application for its acquisition of Chicago-based Tribune Media.

In what sources described as a “significant compromise” from its earlier filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Sinclair plans to sell 23 stations in 18 markets in order to comply with broadcast ownership rules. The agreement awaits approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC.

Sinclair earlier announced plans to divest ownership of the WGN properties in Chicago, although the Maryland-based company would retain control over the stations’ operations — including news, programming and sales — under joint sales and shared services agreements.

“While we continue to believe that we had a strong and supportable rationale for not having to divest stations, we are happy to announce this significant step forward in our plan to create a leading broadcast platform with local focus and national reach,” Chris Ripley, president and CEO of Sinclair, said in a statement.

After the divestitures, Sinclair would still own, operate and/or provide services to 215 television stations in 102 markets, according to the company.

Tribune Media CEO Peter Kern said Sinclair’s latest action was designed to “pave the way for regulatory approval” of the $3.9 billion deal. “We've known for nearly a year that change was coming, but as I've said before, there is no reason to assume that this change won’t be for the better,” Kern told employees in an email.

Here is the text of Kern’s email to employees:

Today Sinclair Broadcast Group filed additional paperwork with the FCC, laying out their intentions regarding TV station sales as part of the ongoing process of obtaining regulatory approval for our merger. Their filing spells out Sinclair’s plan to sell 23 stations in 18 markets and, in many cases, identifies the specific buyers of those stations. Importantly, the actions outlined in today’s filing are designed to bring our proposed merger into compliance with the FCC’s broadcast ownership rules and pave the way for regulatory approval.

I have attached the press release Sinclair issued earlier today summarizing the filing; please take a moment to read it. I want to highlight a few points contained in the new filing:

  • WPIX-TV in New York City will remain with Sinclair following the close of the transaction;
  • Along with the sales outlined in Sinclair’s February filing with the FCC, today’s filing adds our TV stations in Denver, Sacramento, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston and Miami to the list of stations that will be sold. Buyers have yet to be announced for these markets;
  • In a number of markets where our operations overlap, Sinclair is opting to sell one of the TV stations it currently owns rather than the Tribune Media-owned TV station. Markets where this is occurring in whole or in part include Seattle, Salt Lake, Oklahoma City, Greensboro, Richmond, Wilkes Barre, and Des Moines.

We've known for nearly a year that change was coming, but as I've said before, there is no reason to assume that this change won’t be for the better. Whether your parent company is Sinclair or any of the other media companies identified in today’s filing, you are the key ingredient to their ultimate success. Each of them will have their own unique opportunities and challenges, but each needs talented, experienced and dedicated employees like you.

So try to focus, as you have always done, on the business at hand—delivering outstanding local journalism and great content for our audiences and communities, collaborating with your colleagues, and driving results for our customers.

I know this has been a long and at times frustrating process for you; and we still are not yet at the finish line. I am sure many of you have questions, and we will do what we can to answer those that we can. While today's filing helps clarify some things, we don't yet have clarity on everything and in fact, there are still many issues we cannot discuss with Sinclair or these other buyers. But we hope that today’s filing will now lay out a clear path to completing this transaction and as we get closer, we expect to be able to give you greater clarity on the issues that are most important to you personally.

Thank you for your understanding and patience over the last 11 months. I promise to keep you updated as we move forward and can share more information.