Consumer watchdog group Allied Progress, which is opposing Sinclair Broadcast Group's planned $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co., asked the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to deny the deal.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit V. Pai, the group questions whether a deal that would create the single largest operator of local broadcast stations in the country serves the public interest. Hunt Valley-based Sinclair announced plans in May to acquire Tribune's 42 local news stations, bringing its ownership count to 233 stations that could reach 72 percent of American households.
"This level of ownership is unprecedented and would violate the national ownership cap," Karl Frisch, the group's executive director, said in the letter. "Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune Media would result in less competition, fewer local program options and higher costs for consumers."
Sinclair officials have called the planned acquisition an opportunity to improve content by networking stations and sharing news. The deal is possible because of a recent FCC decision to relax station ownership rules.
Tribune Media was formed in 2014 when Tribune Co., then the parent of The Baltimore Sun, split its broadcasting and publishing divisions into separate, independent companies. The broadcast division became Tribune Media, while the publishing division, including The Sun, became Tribune Publishing, renamed tronc Inc. last year.
The deal "would create a leading media platform that ensures a free and local television model can thrive," David Smith, Sinclair's executive chairman, said when the company announced second quarter earnings last week.
Other groups that have opposed the merger include the American Cable Association, DISH Network and Public Knowledge, which filed a motion July 12 with the FCC seeking additional information and more time for public comment. The FCC denied the motion Aug. 3.
"The FCC action does not mean that the [opponents] cannot file against the deal, and it is expected that they will," Sinclair said in a release Monday.
Sinclair President and CEO Chris Ripley said last week the acquisition is on track and he believed it will close around the end of the year.