Fox Can Get $608 Million Offer to Shift WWOR Airwaves, FCC Says

  • Agency publishes initial prices to be offered to TV stations
  • Spectrum then will be sold to meet growing smartphone demand

The U.S. set a $608 million opening bid for Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. to move WWOR-TV in New York to different airwaves to make room for smartphones, regulators said Friday.

The price appeared in a 47-page list of offers for TV-station airwaves nationwide as the Federal Communications Commission prepares for a two-stage auction next year. In the sale, scheduled to begin March 29, the FCC will buy airwaves from TV stations willing to move to other frequencies or go off the air.

WWOR would fetch an opening bid of $810 million to go off the air, an amount ranking among the largest on the FCC’s list. Opening bids are less for stations in smaller cities.

Fox has said it intends to sell TV-station airwaves and continue to broadcast but on other frequencies. If WWOR shifts airwaves it could get an initial offer -- which is likely to drop -- of $608 million or $324 million, depending on which swath of frequencies it chooses as its future home, according to the FCC. Nathaniel Brown, a Fox spokesman, didn’t immediately return a telephone call Friday.

The frequencies will be sold at auction to bidders who are expected to include wireless carriers such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and T-Mobile US Inc.

Broadcasters in most cases will be paid less than the opening bid in the so-called reverse auction because the offering price falls in each round of bidding. The price continues to drop until the number of willing sellers is winnowed to a number needed to clear the amount of airwaves the FCC decides it needs.

Broadcasters are free not to take part in the auction.

CBS Corp.’s WCBS-TV in New York was the priciest station on the FCC’s list, with an opening bid price of $900 million. The company that owns 27 televisions isn’t looking to sell airwaves of its 13 CBS stations and is “taking a very careful look” at offering frequencies from some other stations, Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves told investors last month. Dana McClintock, a CBS spokesman, declined to comment Friday as did Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters trade group.

“It’s a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for broadcasters to receive a very large cash payment and continue to be able to operate their business,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

TV station owners are to apply by Dec. 18 to take part. Companies intending to bid for airwaves need to notify the FCC in January.

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