Judge consolidates antitrust lawsuits against Sinclair Broadcast

A panel of federal judges has consolidated 17 lawsuits accusing Sinclair Broadcast Group and other media companies of scheming to artificially raise prices for local television advertisements.

Cases pending in federal court in Maryland and Illinois will be combined with 15 related cases and heard in Illinois, a panel on multidistrict litigation ordered this week.

“The actions commonly allege that the conspiracy was effectuated by sharing competitively sensitive information through … advertising sales teams in order to raise advertising prices to supracompetitive levels,” said the order, filed Tuesday.

Sinclair had no comment on the lawsuit consolidations, a spokesman said.

In late July, Clay, Massey & Associates, an Alabama law firm that advertised on TV, filed an antitrust class action lawsuit in Illinois accusing the six biggest owners of local television stations televisions of inflating ad prices. Besides Hunt Valley-based Sinclair, defendants include Tribune Media Co., Gray Television Inc., Hearst Corp., Nexstar Media Group Inc. and Tegna Inc., which collectively own, operate or offer service to more than 443 local stations as of 2016, the lawsuit says.

The law offices of Peter Miller, in Little Rock, Ark., filed a similar lawsuit against Sinclair and Tribune, also at the end of July.

“Instead of competing with each other on price for advertising sales as horizontal competitors typically would, defendants and their co-conspirators shared proprietary information and conspired to fix prices and stifle competition in the market,” the Peter MIller lawsuit alleged.

Sinclair and other defendants had asked the court for additional time to respond to the lawsuits while the court decided whether to consolidate cases.

Sinclair also is involved in litigation with Tribune, its former partner in a failed $3.9 billion deal to combine the two media giants. Sinclair filed a counter-lawsuit against Tribune at the end of August. Tribune had canceled the planned merger and sued Sinclair for $1 billion, alleging breach of contract.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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