The FCC approved Nexstar Media Group’s acquisition of Tribune Media Co. on Monday. The agency’s action means the deal can go forward since the Justice Department signed off on July 31. The $6.4 billion purchase was announced last November but was reliant on regulator approval.
In order to come in compliance with the agency’s local and national television ownership rules, Nexstar agreed to divest some stations to Scripps Broadcast Holdings, TEGNA Broadcast Holdings, and CCB License. In Indianapolis and Norfolk, the Commission found that the transfer of preexisting combinations of two, top-four ranked broadcast television stations to Nexstar and Scripps, respectively, would be in the public interest. After the spins, Nexstar will own 144 full-power stations in 115 markets, according to Broadcasting and Cable. Pre-divestitures, Nexstar owns 135 towers, per the FCC.
Overall, the Commission found that the proposed deal was in the public interest, finding, for example, that viewers would benefit from their local stations having increased access to Nexstar’s Washington, D.C., news bureau and state news bureaus. Additionally, Nexstar demonstrated that it would invest savings resulting from the merger into its stations, including spending on the next-gen television transmission standard ATSC 3.0.
The vote was 3-2. While Commissioner Michael O’Rielly approved the deal, he said it was ironic the Commissioners spent so much time scrutinizing whether or not a station is a four or five (or six) in its market, and whether that should even be a factor. “Frankly, does this even make a difference when the high-tech giants are competing with the highly-regulated broadcasters for advertising dollars in nearly every local market across the country and with dramatically different economies of scale? Seismic advertising shifts confronting the TV industry threaten to send some entities the way of the newspaper if we do not respect marketplace realities and reorient our transaction regulations and processes, in general, to the way consumers, advertisers, and the market view broadcast television,” he said in a statement.
Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented, saying the agency’s media ownership standard “is built on an anachronistic assumption about audience reach.” Rosenworcel called that “embarrassing.”
September 17, 2019