Sinclair amends Tribune deal…again

Would keep WPIX New York but spin-off WGN to an LLC

Maybe the fourth time’s the charm: Hunt Valley, Md. based Sinclair Broadcasting has filed another amended proposal to purchase Tribune Media.

In their new filing with the FCC, Sinclair is proposing to sell 23 stations in 18 markets in order to satisfy the broadcast ownership rules. In the new proposal, Tribune’s New York CW affiliate WPIX would be outright owned by Sinclair, while independent WGN-TV would be owned and licensed by “WGN-TV LLC”, a shell company that would run the station under a joint sales and shared services agreement.

The principals behind WGN-TV LLC weren’t revealed but one of them is believed to be Steven Fader, a a longtime business associate of Sinclair chairman David Smith, according to the Chicago Tribune. No local individuals are expected to be involved in the venture.

In a similar arrangement, Cunningham Broadcasting – proposed to take over WPIX, would now take over Tribune’s CW affiliates KDAF in Dallas and KIAH in Houston instead. Conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams would take over three stations: KUNS in Seattle (Univision); KMYU in Salt Lake City (My Network TV), and KAUT (Ind.) in Oklahoma City.

Tribune would also sell six Fox affiliates: Seattle (KCPQ), Denver (KDVR), Sacramento (KTXL), Cleveland (WJW), San Diego (KSWB), Miami (WSFL), and Salt Lake City (KSTU).  A buyer wasn’t named, but Fox is the likely purchaser. Fox previously owned three of these stations (WJW, KDVR, and KSTU).

Among the 23 stations Sinclair is planning to sell is St. Louis’ KPLR to Meredith Corp., giving the CW affiliate a duopoly with CBS affiliate KMOV, who already has a digital subchannel My Network TV affiliate. Sinclair already owns ABC affiliate KDNL and would purchase Tribune’s Fox affiliate KTVI in the deal, and would likely restore news to KDNL, who has been without a news operation since 2001. Both stations swapped affiliations in the New World-Fox deal in 1995. New World sold KTVI to Fox outright in 1997.

Finally, Sinclair is proposing to sell nine other stations to a newly-formed company called Standard Media, in six markets: Oklahoma City (KOKH); Grand Rapids, Mich.; Harrisburg, Pa., Greensboro; Richmond, Va.; Des Moines; and Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa. Standard Media would operate the stations independently from Sinclair. Standard Media is a division of hedge fund corporation Standard General.

If the FCC green-lights the proposals, the Sinclair-Tribune deal could close as soon as June. Even after all the divestitures, Sinclair would still own and/or operate over 200 stations in 102 of the nation’s 210 TV markets, including eight of the top ten and every market in Illinois with the exception of Rockford. Not exactly a bid for world domination, but enough to wield significant influence in the television industry – a reason numerous cable and satellite companies are opposed to the deal, fearing it would give Sinclair significant leverage in retransmission consent negotiations (i.e. paying local stations to carry their signal over their systems.) But even those concerns may not be enough to derail the deal, as the FCC’s Democratic minority recently shrunk by one with the departure of commissioner Mignon Clayburn.

The amended application also comes at a time when Sinclair is facing increased scrutiny over its ties to the Trump administration as its news anchors were forced to read a template script about “fake news”. Recently, Sinclair was forced to part ways with talk show host Jamie Allman, who hosted a conservative talk show on the station after he threatened someone on social media with sexual assault. Sinclair executives (including Smith) have also criticized programming on the Big Three networks they are affiliated with for their often-liberal bent. The comments highlighted the often tense relationship the broadcast networks and affiliates have with one another.