FCC Approves Tribune, Gannett Station Acqusitions

Greenlight from feds comes amid rising concern about broadcast consolidation

The Federal Communications Commission is cleaning out its in-box before the end of the year, granting approvals to mega broadcast TV station acquisitions by Tribune Co. and Gannett Co.

Regulatory approval for both deals had been expected, even as media watchdog groups raise concerns about the accelerated pace of consolidation of station ownership in the past 18 months. In both cases, Tribune and Gannett had to sell off a few stations to comply with the feds — and in both cases the buyers are execs who were formerly affiliated with the sellers.

SEE ALSO: Retrans, Political Ad Gusher Fuels $10 Bil Burst of Station Sales

Gannett Co. announced its $1.5 billion purchase of Belo Corp. stations in June. The deal makes the newspaper-broadcast company the largest owner of Big Three network affiliates outside of the O&O groups.

To secure Justice Dept. approval of the merger, Gannett agreed to sell one of two stations in the St. Louis market, CBS affil KMOV, which came from the Belo side. The buyer happens to be Jack Sander, former Belo Corp. chief, according to the New York Times.

Tribune Co. unveiled its $2.7 billion acquisition of Local TV Holdings a few days after the Gannett-Belo deal was announced. Tribune’s purchase of 16 mid-size market stations makes it one of the nation’s largest station owners, by volume and by national reach.

To secure the FCC’s blessing, however, Tribune had to sell off three Local TV stations in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and Norfolk, Va. The buyer is the fledgling Dreamcatcher Broadcasting, headed by former Tribune Broadcasting prexy Ed Wilson.

“The logic and investment thesis underlining our acquisition of Local TV is as powerful as it is simple—in a fragmenting media landscape, there is value in scale, for our viewers, advertisers, networks, cable and satellite partners and, most important, the communities we serve,” said Tribune Co. topper Peter Liguori.

Tribune’s move to double-down on TV stations comes as it prepares to spinoff its newspaper unit next year.

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