The nation's biggest owner of TV stations has told the Federal Communications Commission it is surrendering the licenses for three of its properties in response to a recent rule change by the regulatory agency.
Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns or operates 167 local TV stations in 77 markets, said in a letter to the FCC that since it was unable to sell three TV stations that would have put it in compliance with the commission's new TV ownership rules.
The stations are WCIV-TV Charleston, S.C., and WCFT-TV Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV Anniston, both in Alabama. They were acquired by Sinclair when it purchased Allbritton Communications last year for $985 million.
Sinclair already owns TV stations in and around those markets, and FCC rules limit the number of TV stations a broadcaster can own in a given market. In the past, the FCC allowed broadcasters to create partnerships where another company would run the stations for them. Sinclair had a partner lined up to operate these stations.
But earlier this year, the FCC tightened up the rules regarding so-called joint sales agreements. As a result of the changes, Sinclair had to find a buyer for the stations. The company said it retained an investment bank and shopped the properties but to no avail.
Two FCC commissioners who were against the changes make to the rules expressed concern about Sinclair's actions.
"When the Commission voted to restrict television broadcasters’ use of joint sales agreements (JSAs), we warned that this decision would lead to `less ownership diversity' and `more television stations going out of business.' Unfortunately, just two months later, this is coming to pass," said Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly in a joint statement.
The two commissioners noted that Sinclair's proposed partner to operate the stations was minority owned.
"Instead of increasing the number of African-American-owned television stations, we are driving stations off the air," the pair said.