FCC Approves Sinclair Purchase Of Allbritton TV Stations, Shutdown Of 3 Stations
July 24, 2014 at 3:27 PM (PT)
The FCC has approved SINCLAIR TELEVISION GROUP, INC.'s acquisition of the ALLBRITTON COMMUNICATIONS CO. television stations for $985 million, over the objections of the RAINBOW PUSH COALITION, AMERICAN CABLE ASSOCIATION, RAYMIE HUMBERT, FREE PRESS, and PUT PEOPLE FIRST! PA.
The deal as approved has SINCLAIR shutting down ALLBRITTON ABC affiliate simulcast WCFT-TV/TUSCALOOSA and WJSU-TV/ANNISTON, AL (ABC 33/40) and moving the ABC programming to a multicast digital channel of MY NETWORK TV affiliate WABM-TV (MY68)/BIRMINGHAM. SINCLAIR would also spin off ALLBRITTON ABC affiliate WHTM-TV (ABC 27)/HARRISBURG to MEDIA GENERAL but retain CBS affiliate WHP-TV (CBS 21)/HARRISBURG and continue to program CW affiliate WLYH-TV (CW 15)/LANCASTER, PA. And in CHARLESTON, SC, ALLBRITTON ABC affiliate WCIV-TV (ABC NEWS 4) will be shut down, SINCLAIR will retain MY NETWORK TV affiliate WMMP-TV (MYTV CHARLESTON), and will cease the existing LMA of CUNNINGHAM BROADCASTING FOX affiliate WTAT-TV (FOX 24); the ABC programming of WCIV will move to a digital multicast channel of WMMP. SINCLAIR will have 60 days to implement the changes, and CUNNINGHAM will have quarterly reporting requirements for eight years regarding any sharing arrangements affecting its operation of WTAT.
The CHARLESTON situation, which the Commission noted involved an LMA that violated the rules, will be addressed in a separate order and was, in the Commission's eyes, negligence rather than misrepresentation and lack of candor, since SINCLAIR said it was relying on its interpretation of a stay of the Commission's new attribution rules.
In the deal, SINCLAIR gets ABC affiliates WJLA-TV (ABC 7)/WASHINGTON and its NEWSCHANNEL 8 cable operation, KATV-TV/LITTLE ROCK, KTUL-TV/TULSA, and WSET-TV (ABC 13)/LYNCHBURG-ROANOKE.
Commissioner AJIT PAI issued a statement decrying the effect of the Commission's new, stricter scrutiny of joint sales agreements, saying that "the FCC’s crackdown on joint sales agreements claims three more victims: two television stations in the BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA market (WCFT and WJSU) and one television station in CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (WCIV). This time, the hammer falls as part of the agency’s review of the SINCLAIR/ALLBRITTON transaction. Under the parties’ original proposal and the rules that were in effect when the transaction was presented to the Commission, these three stations would have continued providing local service to their communities. But because of the Commission’s new rules, the Media Bureau’s order requires them to go dark within sixty days.
"How does this outcome serve the cause of diversity? And how does this outcome serve
the cause of competition? In CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA, for example, WCIV would have been owned and operated by HOWARD STIRK HOLDINGS, INC., an African-American owned broadcast company. But apparently the Commission believes that it is better for that station to go out of business than for HOWARD STIRK HOLDINGS to own the station and participate in a joint sales agreement with SINCLAIR. I strongly disagree. And so too, I’ll bet, would consumers in CHARLESTON."
And in a rare statement from the Media Bureau backing the ruling, Bureau Chief WILLIAM T. LAKE said, "The Order released today approving the transaction between SINCLAIR and ALLBRITTON exemplifies the careful scrutiny the Bureau will provide to broadcast transactions that propose new combinations of sharing arrangements and financial entanglements between a dominant licensee and a so-called sidecar entity. The Media Bureau has demonstrated clearly that it will not allow such combined arrangements to undermine the local TV ownership rule, which is in place to ensure competition and diverse voices on the airwaves.
"When the Commission adopted the Joint Sales Agreement Order in March, the Chairman announced a two-fold goal: to close off what had become a growing end-run around our local TV ownership rule, while ensuring prompt and careful review of proposed transactions that advance our public interest mandate. The Order released today is consistent with those goals and with our broader mandates to ensure continued access to programming and encourage competition in the marketplace. Consumers deserve access to as many truly independent broadcast voices as possible, and our actions in this area follow through on our commitment to that objective."