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Nexstar Makes Regulatory Case for Tribune Acquisition, Drawing Contrast With Sinclair

Nexstar Media Group CEO Perry Sook is taking a friendly approach to the FCC and other regulators as he begins the PR effort to secure federal approval of the Texas-based broadcaster’s $6.4 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.

The deal unveiled Monday morning will make Nexstar the nation’s largest owner of TV stations by total volume, with an estimated 216 stations in 118 markets. The size and scope of the company will surely spark opposition from media watchdog groups concerned about increasing concentration in the ownership of local TV stations. Nexstar, based in Irving, Texas, has been one of the industry’s fastest growing station groups since it was founded by Sook in 1996 with one station in Scranton, Pa.

Nexstar’s deal with Tribune comes about four months after Tribune’s planned acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group was torpedoed by public opposition and Sinclair’s aggressive approach to handling the divestitures necessary to comply with the FCC’s media ownership rules. Sinclair and Tribune called off the nuptials in August and have filed dueling lawsuits over the deal’s collapse.

During a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Sook pointed to Nexstar’s track record in guiding its $4.6 billion acquisition of the much larger Media General broadcast group through the regulatory maze just two years ago.

Sook told analysts that he had already spoken to FCC chairman Ajit Pai about the transaction early Monday. He promised to quickly deliver a “comprehensive plan for compliance with regulatory requirements” to the FCC. News of Nexstar’s deal with Tribune came the same day the FCC’s Inspector General ruled Pai did not act improperly regarding contact with the White House over Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune.

Nexstar has identified 15 markets as having overlap problems with Tribune holdings that may require divestitures, although Sook said the focus was on 13 of those markets. Sinclair’s attempted acquisition raised howls from critics of the conservative bent to the company’s news, commentary and public affairs programming.

Sook emphasized Nexstar’s track record of delivering “trustworthy local news” and investing in “local content production and opening new news bureaus” as the company’s reach has grown. Sook didn’t reference Sinclair but assured analysts he would not allow divestitures to derail the deal.

“It might be different than the approach taken by the previous acquirer but it’s not any different than the track record of success and credibility with these agencies that we’ve built over 20 years of doing business with them,” Sook said.

Nexstar had pursued nearly two years ago when the company that owns WPIX-TV New York, KTLA-TV Los Angeles and 40 other stations first went on the block. Noting the unusual opportunity for Nexstar to get a second swing at the bat, Sook joked that he couldn’t decide if the “theme song” of the deal should be drawn from “Sammy Cahn’s ‘Love is lovelier the second time around’ or the Grateful Dead’s ‘What a long strange trip it’s been.’ “

(Pictured: Nexstar chief Perry Sook)

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