FCC delays review of Sinclair Broadcast's acquisition of Tribune Media

For a second time, federal regulators have delayed their review of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposed $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media, this time to allow Sinclair to evaluate potential sales of TV stations.

The Federal Communications Commission said late Thursday it stopped its self-imposed “shot clock” on the review as of Jan. 4 to allow for a more thorough analysis. The commission had set a goal of completing its review in 180 days or by the middle of next week.

Hunt Valley-based Sinclair told the FCC Jan. 4 that it “was evaluating divestitures” to comply with TV station ownership rules, according to a letter sent to the company Thursday by Michelle M. Carey, head of the FCC’s Media Bureau.

“The commission has a strong interest in ensuring a full and complete record upon which to base its decision in this proceeding,” Carey said in the letter, adding that it is appropriate to stop the clock until after Sinclair files divestiture applications and the FCC can review them.

The FCC last halted its review in October to give the public more time to comment on the controversial deal, which will cement Sinclair’s spot as the nation’s largest broadcaster, with control of 233 television stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households.

In November, in a move seen as favorable to the Sinclair/Tribune deal, the FCC eliminated a rule that required at least eight independently owned TV stations to be in a market before any entity may own two stations. It also allowed exceptions to a ban on an entity owning two of the top four stations in a market.

Tribune Media was formed in 2014 when Tribune Co. — then the parent of The Baltimore Sun — split its broadcasting and publishing divisions into separate companies. The broadcast division became Tribune Media while the publishing division, including The Sun, became Tribune Publishing, renamed tronc Inc. in 2016.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox is close to scooping up a handful of Sinclair television stations, furthering Fox's long-term goal to control more stations in sports markets, according to a person familiar with the talks.

Fox has designs on about eight to 10 stations, including in Seattle and Denver, which both have popular NFL teams.

The planned acquisition of the Sinclair stations comes less than a month after Fox announced plans to sell the bulk of its business to the Walt Disney Co. for $52.4 billion. However, the Murdoch family plans to hold onto the company's television stations, national sports networks, Fox News Channel and Los Angeles-based Fox broadcast network after the asset sale to Disney.

Murdoch has said he wants to remold a slimmed-down Fox to focus on news, sports and live programming.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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