Sinclair Broadcast announces plans to buy Bonten Media Group for $240 million

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has agreed to buy the stock of New York-based Bonten Media Group Holdings for $240 million, the Hunt Valley-based broadcaster announced Friday.

Bonten owns 14 television stations in eight markets, which reach about 1 percent of the TV households in the United States. The broadcaster also operates four stations through "joint sales agreements" with Esteem Broadcasting, and those stations will be acquired by Sinclair-owned Cunningham Broadcasting.


The Bonten and Esteem stations being acquired include NBC, ABC, Fox, CW, UNI and MNT affiliates in eight television markets in California, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The acquisition will help Sinclair expand its regional presence in several states where it already owns stations, Chris Ripley, Sinclair president and CEO, said in Friday's announcement. Sinclair owns, operates or offers service to 173 television stations in 81 markets.


"We believe our economies of scale help us bring improvements to small-market stations, including investments in news, other quality local programming and multicast opportunities with our emerging networks of Comet, Charge! And TBD," Ripley said.

Sinclair expects to close the sale, using cash on hand, in the third quarter of this year. The deal is subject Federal Communications Commission approval and antitrust clearance.

Sinclair announced the deal a day after the FCC relaxed broadcast ownership rules, a move expected to pave the way for television industry consolidation. Bloomberg News has reported that Sinclair is preparing to buy Tribune Media, which would bring together two of the nation's largest television station owners. (Tribune is the former owner of The Baltimore Sun and owns the newspaper's Mount Vernon office building.)

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The FCC voted Thursday to reinstate the so-called UHF discount. The discount allows stations broadcasting on those higher-frequency airwaves to count only half their audience against a cap allowing a single company to own stations reaching no more than 39 percent of the nation's television households.

Without the UHF discount, Sinclair had an audience reach of about 38 percent. With it reinstated, and including the Bonten stations, it would have an estimated 25 percent reach, said Marci Ryvicker, a senior analyst with Wells Fargo Securities.

"We do not believe this precludes other deals large or small," Ryvicker said in a report Friday. "We view this transaction as a ''drop in the bucket'' for [Sinclair.] It by no means precludes other deals from happening large or small as [Sinclair] clearly still has plenty of ... financial room."

Ryvicker said she expects future acquisitions to help boost Sinclair's free cash flow and stock price.

Sinclair shares fell 45 cents Friday to close at $39.90 each.