Seeking Tribune deal approval, Sinclair offers to sell NY, Chicago stations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc SBGI.O has agreed to sell TV stations in Chicago and New York owned by Tribune Media Co TRCO.N as part of its bid to win approval to acquire Tribune, according to a filing on Wednesday with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Sinclair, which is already the largest U.S. broadcast station owner, announced plans in May to acquire Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households, in a $3.9 billion deal.

In a joint filing by the two companies, Tribune said it will file an application to sell WGN-TV in Chicago and WPIX-TV in New York “in order to come into compliance” with FCC ownership rules. And Sinclair said it does not plan to acquire Tribune station KSWB in San Diego.

Sinclair said that not acquiring the Chicago, San Diego and New York stations will shrink its national audience reach by about 8 percentage points.

Sinclair has agreed to sell stations in markets where it overlaps with Tribune, but has not yet identified which stations it will sell in some markets. Many of the stations it plans to sell are current Tribune stations.

Sinclair said in the filing that to meet other ownership limits it will divest one or more stations in eight markets: Seattle; St. Louis; Salt Lake City; Oklahoma City; Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem, North Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Richmond, Virginia; and Des Moines-Ames, Iowa.

Sinclair said it is asking the FCC for consent to retain two stations in each of three markets in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

The FCC said last month it was pausing its informal 180-day timetable for completing its review of the transaction to evaluate Sinclair’s offer of divestitures.

In November, the FCC voted to remove key roadblocks to increased consolidation among media companies, potentially unleashing new deals among TV, radio and newspaper owners as they seek to better compete with online media.

The Republican-led FCC voted 3-2 to eliminate the 42-year-old ban on cross-ownership of a newspaper and TV station in a major market.

It also voted to make it easier for media companies to buy additional TV stations in the same market, and for local stations to jointly sell advertising time and for companies to buy additional radio stations in some markets.

In April, the FCC voted to reverse a 2016 decision that limits the number of television stations some broadcasters could buy, including Sinclair.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler