FCC approves Nexstar Media deal to buy Tribune Media

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission on Monday said it voted to approve Nexstar Media Group Inc's NXST.O acquisition of Tribune Media Co TRCO.N in a $6.4 billion deal.

The 3-to-2 vote follows the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement in July that it had approved the deal, saying the companies had to divest television stations in 13 markets to resolve antitrust concerns. Nexstar said in December it had agreed to buy Chicago-based Tribune for $4.1 billion in a deal valued at $6.4 billion, including debt, that would make it the largest regional U.S. television station operator.

Tribune Media Chief Executive Peter Kern said in a statement the approval “enables us to clear the last remaining regulatory hurdle” and that he looks forward to closing “with Nexstar very soon.”

Nexstar said it “anticipates closing the Tribune transaction and the divestiture sales shortly.”

FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, a Republican, backed the deal and said broadcasters “are forced to compete against Silicon Valley behemoths for advertising dollars. Any opportunities to enable broadcasters to compete more effectively should therefore be encouraged and embraced.”

He added that “seismic shifts confronting the television industry threaten to send some entities the way of the newspaper... The tsunami is already sweeping ashore and we’re still debating how many umbrellas the beachgoers are allowed to own.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, dissented, saying the combined firm will be the “largest in our nation’s history” and “will be able to broadcast to more than three in five of our nation’s television households.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said the deal is only permissible because of a “loophole” based on obsolete technical grounds that allows station owners to partially count stations against a national ownership cap.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc SBGI.O previously failed to win approval to buy Tribune. Tribune terminated its deal with Sinclair in August 2018 and filed a lawsuit arguing Sinclair mishandled efforts to get the transaction approved.

Based in Irving, Texas, Nexstar owns, operates and provides sales and other services to 174 television stations. Nexstar said in March it was selling 19 television stations to Tegna Inc TGNA.N and E.W. Scripps Co for $1.3 billion to satisfy regulatory demands before it buys Tribune.

Tribune Media owns or operates 42 local television stations reaching approximately 50 million households. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy in late 2012 and completed a spin-off of its newspaper assets in 2014.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul, Chris Reese and Dan Grebler