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Sinclair Revises Station Divestiture Plan Following Pushback From Regulators

Sinclair Broadcast Group has been forced to significantly revise its plan for station divestitures to secure federal approval of a $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.

Sinclair’s deal with Tribune promises to make the company by far the largest owner of TV stations in the country, which has drawn criticism from media watchdog groups and scrutiny from regulators.

Sinclair in February unveiled a plan to sell two top-market Tribune stations — WPIX-TV New York and WGN-TV Chicago — in order to comply with federal ownership rules, but with the caveat that the friendly buyers would allow Sinclair to continue to operate the stations. That plan reportedly drew major pushback from the Justice Department and FCC, both of which are reviewing the deal.

On Tuesday, Sinclair identified 23 stations that would be sold to secure federal approval of the deal. The revised plan still calls for Sinclair to sell WGN-TV but continue to operate the station. The sale of WPIX, however, is off the table. Critics said Sinclair’s deal was a brazen run around the federal station ownership cap, right down to the shockingly low pricetags of $15 million for WPIX and $60 million for WGN. It’s unclear if the sale price for WGN-TV has changed.

Sinclair has buyers lined up for all but seven of the stations. The company said it expects the deal to close near the end of the current quarter. The initial deal with Tribune was set in May, but has been through a prolonged regulatory review given the historic nature of the deal and the level of opposition raised by critics of Sinclair and local TV consolidation.

“After a very robust divestiture process, with strong interest from many parties, we have achieved healthy multiples on the stations we are divesting,” said Chris Ripley, Sinclair president-CEO. “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. The combined company will continue to advance industry technology, including the Next Generation Broadcast Platform, and to benefit from significant revenue and expense synergies.”

The new plan calls for the sale of a mix of Sinclair and Tribune outlets. Large markets that will see turnover include Dallas and Houston, where Sinclair will part with Tribune-owned CW affiliates KDAF and KIAH, respectively. Both of those stations will be acquired by Cunningham Broadcasting, a group with close ties to Sinclair.

Nine of the smaller-market stations will be acquired by Standard Media, backed by hedge fund Standard General. Broadcasting veteran Deb McDermott has been recruited to serve as president-CEO of Standard Media.

After the divestitures, Sinclair will own or operate some 215 stations serving 102 markets.

Click here for a complete list of Sinclair’s station sales.

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