Sinclair Says It's Closer to Winning Approval for Tribune

Updated on
  • Broadcaster predicts second-quarter close on $3.9 billion deal
  • Deal would bring Sinclair’s total to more than 200 stations

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said it’s “getting close” to winning U.S. regulatory clearance for its purchase of Tribune Media Co., and predicted a second-quarter close for the deal it once envisioned completing last year. Shares dropped after a sales forecast missed some estimates.

Justice Department antitrust officials vetting the $3.9 billion deal that was announced in May have “done their work, they’ve been very diligent, and we’re just awaiting the final answer of their process," Sinclair Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley said Wednesday on an earnings call. “We feel we’re getting close.”

The deal also needs clearance from the Federal Communications Commission, where NCTA-The Internet & Television Association in a Feb. 27 filing asked that the agency’s review not move ahead until Sinclair discloses more details about possible station sales to comply with federal ownership limits. NCTA, a trade group with members including top U.S. cable provider Comcast Corp., has argued that the enlarged Sinclair would have enough power to demand higher fees for cable systems using its TV-station signals.

The takeover has been delayed by the regulatory reviews. Sinclair was targeting the end of 2017 to close the deal, and in November the company pushed that goal back to "early" this year. In its earnings statement Wednesday, Sinclair said it “expected to close in the second quarter of 2018.”

The deal as proposed would give Sinclair, which says its has 193 stations, an additional 42 stations in 33 more markets. The Maryland-based broadcaster is known for its conservative leanings, for instance hiring Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump, as chief political analyst.

Sinclair has said it expects to sell some stations to comply with FCC limits on broadcast ownership, and it has proposed holding some stations in trust so it can quickly meet demands to divest. It also has said it intends to operate some stations that it sells, including WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York.

Shares in Maryland-based Sinclair dropped as much as 10.3 percent before recovering to $33.88, down 6 percent, at 1:44 p.m. New York time.

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment. The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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