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Sinclair to sell NY, Chicago TV stations to win Tribune deal approval

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. plans to offload TV stations in Chicago, New York and San Diego to comply with the Federal Communications Commission's national TV ownership cap as it seeks regulators' approval for its proposed combination with Tribune Media Co.

The company has reached sale agreements for WGN-TV, an independent station in Chicago, and WPIX-TV, a The CW (US) affiliate in New York, with undisclosed buyers, Sinclair said in a Feb. 21 filing with the FCC, adding that the company also intends to sell Tribune station KSWB, a FOX (US) affiliate in San Diego.

Sinclair said that upon selling these stations, the combined Sinclair/Tribune entity will have a national audience reach of approximately 37.3%, including the UHF discount. Currently, the national audience reach cap prohibits a single broadcast station group from owning TV stations that together reach more than 39% of U.S. TV households. The recently reinstituted UHF discount, however, allows stations broadcasting in the UHF spectrum — or on channels 14 to 51 — to attribute just 50% of TV households in their designated market areas toward a station group's overall cap.

Sinclair also plans to sell stations in eight markets where it overlaps with Tribune to comply with the FCC's duopoly rule. The eight markets are: Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Oklahoma City; Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, N.C.; Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Mich.; Richmond-Petersburg, Va.; and Des Moines-Ames, Iowa.

Furthermore, Sinclair is seeking FCC consent to own two top-four stations in Greensboro-High Point Winston Salem; Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Pa.; and Indianapolis. Although the commission historically prohibited any single entity from owning more than one top-four rated station in a single market, the FCC voted in November 2017 to loosen this rule and move instead to a case-by-case review.

Sinclair agreed in May 2017 to buy Tribune Media for $43.50 per share, for a total purchase price of about $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of about $2.7 billion in net debt. Sinclair and Tribune recently extended their merger closing date and promised to provide a 10-day advance notice to the U.S. Department of Justice when they intend to finalize the deal.