FCC approves Tribune, Nexstar deal

Move ends 95 years of local control 

I guess this is another way for the Trump administration and Republicans to stick it to Chicago.

In another… all together now – partisan divided vote, the FCC approved the transaction of Nexstar Broadcasting, swallowing up Chicago-based Tribune Media for $6.4 billion. This gives Nexstar over 100 stations in 114 markets with a whopping 42 states represented. Take a look:

The three Republican members voted for the merger while the Democratic members dissented.

“In the transaction before us, Nexstar Broadcasting acquires Tribune Media Company and its 41 full-power television stations. Following a handful of divestitures, the newly combined licensee will hold 144 full-power station licenses in 115 markets nationwide. As a result, this new broadcast company—the largest in our nation’s history—will be able to broadcast to more than three in five of our nation’s television households. This is extraordinary reach. As a result, the FCC should make an effort to understand the consequences for localism, competition, and diversity. But we fail to do so here…” said Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenwarcel.

Meanwhile, Republican commissioner Michael O’Reilly applauded the move: “On the merits of the item, it is clear that this transaction can be expected to be a win for viewers due to certain efficiencies and consumer opportunities to be gained. Nexstar has a history of increasing news content on the stations it acquires, especially by providing stations access to its state and local public affairs resources. I expect it will do the same here, consistent with commitments made in the transfer applications. Further, Nexstar has been a lead proponent of ATSC 3.0 and plans to increase investment to upgrade the purchased properties to ATSC 3.0 capabilities. This should not be overlooked, given the potential consumer benefits.”

But the issue comes at a huge cost to Chicago: with the sale of Tribune Media, it means independent WGN-TV is no longer “Chicago’s Very Own” as the station and WGN Radio are now owned and operated by a company based in suburban Dallas. In recent years, the city lost another major production company, Harpo Productions as Oprah Winfrey shuttered its West Loop location in 2015 and moved her headquarters to Los Angeles. Tribune’s unraveling started in 2007 when Sam Zell bought (and destroyed) the company in a leveraged buyout and went into bankruptcy a year later. Tribune was sold again and was split into two in 2014: Tribune Publishing and Tribune Media.

In 2017, Sinclair attempted to buy Tribune Media but was stopped dead in its tracks by the FCC. But Tribune was persistent on getting the company sold.

The sale comes at a time for transition for WGN-TV: not only the station is being sold, but is also losing rights to longtime asset Chicago Cubs baseball after 71 years as the team is launching its own network with Sinclair broadcasting, Marquee Sports. WGN is also losing rights to Chicago White Sox baseball as NBC Sports Chicago is taking all rights to those games (including the Bulls and the Blackhawks) in-house.

In order to win approval of the Justice Department, Nexstar agreed to sell off 21 stations, including longtime Tribune stalwart WPIX in New York City to Scripps, meaning WPIX and WGN are no longer sister stations for the first time in history. Both signed on in 1948.

But the worst part of all this is the loss of local ownership of both WGN-TV and WGN-AM the former after 71 years and the latter after 95 years – all thanks to a bunch of greedy investors who wanted to cash out and get their “golden payday” under the guise of “declining viewership due to Netflix, Hulu, and outdated rules, etc.” and any other ridiculousness FCC Republicans and these nincompoops lead you to believe instead of the inept and terrible management at these companies – particularity during the Sam Zell and Randy Michaels eras at Tribune.

But for FCC Republicans and the Trump administration, it’s all par for the course given they are specialists in mediocrity and ineptness. Put all of this together and Chicago’s only media conglomerate is over and done with after nearly a century. And that’s a shame.

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