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FCC grants "failing station" waiver, allows Freedom Communications-Sinclair deal to proceed

The FCC has granted an application to assign the licenses of eight full-power commercial TV stations controlled by the Freedom Communications Broadcast Trust to Sinclair Broadcast Group.

In a letter released March 13, 2012, the FCC Media Bureau Video division said the applications for license assignment were unopposed. However, two of the stations —WCWN-TV and WRGB-TV — are in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY, DMA. Both operate currently under “failing station” waivers of the commission’s duopoly rules.

In seeking the assignment, the parties asked the commission to extend the “failing station” waiver to allow assignment of all the licenses to proceed. After a review, the Video Division granted the waiver, the letter said.

According to the letter, the review satisfied four criteria specified for granting a “failing waiver” including: one of the merging stations as an all-day audience share that is 4 percent or lower; the financial condition of the emerging stations is poor; the merger will create benefits for the public interest; and the in-market buyer is the only reasonably available candidate willing to buy and operate the station, and selling station to a buyer outside the market would result in an artificially depressed price.

In granting the waiver and the assignment of the licenses, the division said filings from the parties have demonstrated that WCWN-TV qualifies for the waiver. “Consistent with the Local Ownership Order, we find that the combined operation of WRGB(TV) and WCWN(TV) will pose minimal harm to our diversity and competition goals because, absent the waiver, WCWN(TV)’s financial situation hampers its ability to be a viable voice in the market.”

Allowing WCWN-TV to be operated by a stronger station in the Albany market will lead to improved facilities and programming, which ultimately benefits the public, the letter said.