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Fox Television Stations Expect $350 Million From FCC’s Spectrum Auction, Tribune Grabs $190 Million

Broadband Spectrum Auction
alexei vella for Variety

The results of the FCC’s broadcast spectrum auction are starting to roll in, now that the gag order preventing station owners from publicly discussing the process has been lifted.

21st Century Fox said Wednesday it expects to receive about $350 million from its participation in the auction. Tribune Media said it expects to grab $190 million.

Congress and the FCC initiated the process that lead to last year’s auctions back in 2009 amid concerns that the nation’s Wi-Fi capacity was in danger of being overtaxed amid the exponential growth in demand for communication and video consumption via mobile and wireless streaming devices.

In the auction, broadcast TV station owners had the option of putting up for sale a portion of the broadcast spectrum licensed to them by the FCC in order to operate their stations using the public airwaves. Now that America’s TV stations have transitioned to all-digital broadcasting, as of 2009, station owners have the flexibility to slice up their spectrum allocation to carry multiple channels or to harness all available capacity to deliver the most high-definition signal possible. That flexibility also means that stations can operate their primary broadcast signal with less spectrum than in the analog era. In some cases, the auction was expected to be a windfall to owners of struggling stations looking to sell out entirely.

The FCC had hoped to raise as much as $80 billion through the auction process on the assumption that wireless providers and other digital and telco firms would jump at the chance to buy more capacity. By many accounts, the proceeds will come in under $20 billion. Fox’s announcement means it has been informed by the FCC that there are buyers for one or more of the spectrum allocations the station group offered up for sale.

Fox did not disclose the stations in its O&O group that put spectrum up for bid. None of Fox’s 28 TV stations in 17 markets will be going dark as a result of the auction. “This spectrum sale is not expected to lead to any material change in the operations or results for Fox Television Stations or for any of the affected television markets,” the company said.

Tribune also did not disclose the stations that sold off spectrum but said it would not “produce any material change in operations or results” for the company.

More TV station owners are expected to release auction results this week.