FCC Sets Stage for Review of Nexstar-Tribune TV Station Spin-Offs

WASHINGTON—The FCC's Media Bureau has accepted for filing the TV station spin-offs that Nexstar said gets its merger with Tribune--just barely--under the 39% national audience reach cap.

With that info in hand, the FCC's Media Bureau has set the comment dates for what is the now-consolidated application for transferring stations from Tribune to Nexstar, which combines the original application and the info on just what stations are being spun off, and to whom. Petitions to deny are due May 27; oppositions to those petitions are due June 11; replies are due June 18.

"Because this proceeding involves multiple transactions in multiple markets, and requires coordinated timing to effectuate divestures of certain stations that are necessary for approval of the overall transaction, we find that consolidated processing of the Divestiture Applications, and their incorporation into this docket, will result in administrative efficiency and ensure a comprehensive record in this proceeding," the Media Bureau said.

As part of the deal, Nexstar and Tribune officially told the FCC this week, in 10 markets where the deal would combine two of the top four stations, one of those will be sold to either Scripps (Justice has already signed off on those from an antitrust review perspective) or Tegna. In an eleventh market, Indianapolis, the merged company is asking to be allowed to retain Tribune's existing pair of top four stations.

Nexstar also has two stations in Indianapolis, but it was going to have to spin off at least two stations in the market regardless and has struck a deal to sell those to Circle City Broadcasting.

FCC rules presume combos of two of the top-four rated stations in a market are not in the public interest, but in a change instituted under FCC chair Ajit Pai, the FCC will look at exceptions on a case-by-case basis. So, for 10 of those combos, the combined company is not trying to make that case but instead divesting, but in Indianapolis, it will.

As to getting the deal under the 39% cap, Nexstar says those and the spin-offs to Circle City, will get it in just under the wire at 38.2965%.

Nexstar has been arguing, along with other broadcasters, that the national cap should be raised, but can't count on that happening, at least in time to factor it into the deal. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio WorldTV TechTV FaxThis Week in Consumer ElectronicsVariety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.