Gannett Co. is betting big on the future of local broadcast TV, setting a $2.2 billion deal to acquire station owner Belo Corp.

Deal will nearly double Gannett’s station holdings to 43 from 23, giving the parent company of USA Today TV stations in 21 of the top 25 markets. It will also expand Gannett’s clout with the Big Three networks as an owner of NBC, CBS and ABC affiliates reaching nearly one-third of U.S. TV households.

Gannett will pay $1.5 billion in cash, or $13.75 a share, to acquire Dallas-based Belo. Deal also includes the assumption of $715 million in existing Belo debt.

The acquisition will make Gannett the largest non-O&O owner of CBS affils and expand its position as NBC’s top affil owner. It will rank No. 4 in ABC affils, and the fourth-largest owner of Big Three affils overall in the country.

Gannett prexy-CEO Gracia Martore emphasized the attractiveness of the geographical diversity that the Belo buy will bring to the company.

“We have been successfully transforming Gannett into a diversified multi-media company with broadcast, digital and publishing components across high-growth markets nationwide, and this is another important step in the process,” Martore said.

Acquisition is expected to close by the end of the year.

“Together, this portfolio of media assets will be well-positioned to capitalize on substantial growth opportunities in the years ahead,” said Belo prexy-CEO Dunia Shive.

Gannett shares spiked in pre-market trading Thursday morning, after closing Wednesday at $19.85, on the news of the acquisition.