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Sinclair says it will sell Tribune stations in New York, Chicago and San Diego to meet TV ownership cap

Sinclair Broadcast Group's headquarters in Baltimore.
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s headquarters in Baltimore.
(Kenneth K. Lam / TNS)

Sinclair Broadcast Group has told the Federal Communications Commission that it will divest the New York, Chicago and San Diego TV stations it plans to acquire from Tribune Media in order to meet the government’s ownership limit on broadcast outlets.

The Baltimore company made its intentions known Wednesday in an FCC filing on the proposed $3.9-billion transaction that is awaiting approval from the commission and the Justice Department.

Sinclair’s decision to part with the stations in New York, the largest TV market in the U.S., and Chicago, which ranks third, was unexpected. A presence in those cities where it does not currently own any properties would raise the company’s profile.

But Sinclair’s practice of forcing its TV stations to run news packages and commentary that push conservative viewpoints may not have been well received in those markets, especially in Chicago, where Tribune’s WGN airs 12 hours of local news each weekday and ranks first in the ratings in a number of time periods.

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Tribune’s KSWB in San Diego is a Fox affiliate.

One person familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly said that Sinclair could put those stations in a company where a separate party controls the investment and the outlets don’t count against the ownership cap. But Sinclair would still operate them under such a scenario.

In any event, the filing probably brings further uncertainty to the stations, which have known since the deal was announced in May that an ownership change is coming. Peter Kern, interim chief executive of Tribune Media, sent an email encouraging employees to remain focused on their jobs.

“Regardless of whether a station is slated to stay with Sinclair or be divested, it is the stations themselves that are the lifeblood of any broadcast company and remain the connection to the community and its viewers,” Kern said in the email, which was provided to The Times. “Remember how important your work is to your community and be confident in the quality of the work you do and the importance that work will have at whatever home you end up.”

Tribune also owns Los Angeles outlet KTLA, which is not named in the filing.

The FCC limits TV ownership groups to stations that cover 39% of the U.S. The proposed acquisition of Tribune’s 42 stations would give Sinclair 233 stations reaching 72% of the U.S. An FCC move to restore a rule that reduces the coverage area of less powerful UHF stations by half — along with the divestiture of some TV stations — would put the merged companies under the cap.

Sinclair has already received interest from the Fox Television Group in acquiring some of its stations that are in markets with National Football League teams such as Seattle. Seattle is included in the markets where Sinclair plans to divest stations, according to the FCC filing.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio


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