Exclusive: Apollo approaches TV stations owner Nexstar about acquisition - sources

(Reuters) - Buyout firm Apollo Global Management LLC APO.N has approached Nexstar Media Group Inc NXST.O, an operator of television stations that reach nearly 40 percent of U.S. households, to express interest in acquiring it, according to people familiar with the matter.

The approach comes a year after Nexstar’s $2.3 billion acquisition of peer Media General Inc turned it into one of the largest U.S. broadcasters. Nexstar wants to add scale as advertisers move their spending to digital and mobile platforms.

Apollo has teamed up with P2 Capital Partners LLC, another investment firm that already owns a small stake in Nexstar, the sources said this week. Nexstar has not yet engaged in sale talks and there is no certainty it will entertain an offer, the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. Apollo declined to comment while Nexstar and P2 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The possibility of a deal sparked a 15 percent jump in Nexstar shares. They later eased to trade up 5 percent at $81.95, giving the company a market capitalization of $3.8 billion.

Based in Irving, Texas, Nexstar has a portfolio of 169 TV stations reaching 100 regional advertising markets that are affiliated with NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, MyNetworkTV and The CW.

Nextstar generated adjusting earnings of $743 million last year, up 83 percent year on year, and $469 million in free cash flow, making it an attractive asset for private equity buyers.

Nexstar made an offer for peer Tribune Media Co TRCO.N last year, but lost out to Sinclair Broadcast group SBGI.O, which clinched a deal for $3.9 billion.

Nexstar is nominally at the limit of a cap by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which restricts TV station ownership to no more than 39 percent of U.S. television households.

However, the FCC is considering rescinding the rule, though it has yet to vote on the matter. Last year, it also changed the rules in which TV stations are counted toward that cap. The change paved the way for Sinclair, the largest U.S. television broadcast group with 192 stations, to ink a deal for Tribune.

Sinclair and Tribune are still waiting for the FCC to clear their deal. Sinclair said in April it would divest 23 stations to win approval.

P2 Capital has a history of buying small stakes in publicly listed companies and then seeking to partner with private equity firms to acquire them. Earlier this year, it teamed up with buyout firm Silver Lake to take U.S. financial technology company Blackhawk Network Holdings Inc private for $3.5 billion.

Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe