Nexstar Wants To Keep Trib’s Top 4 Duop In Indy
Nexstar Media will attempt to hang on to Tribune’s CBS-Fox duopoly in Indianapolis in its $4.1 billion acquisition of Tribune, according to the merger’s FCC transfer application, which was put on public notice today.
Nexstar said that it will show the FCC that the duopoly of two top four stations — WXIN (Fox) and WTTV (CBS) — would “serve the public interest.”
And if it is allowed to own the two stations, it said, it will divest the two other stations it already has there, CW affiliate WISH and MNT affiliate WNDY.
Tribune put together the top 4 duopoly by the back door in 2014 when, as part of a broader agreement with CBS, it acquired the CBS affiliation for WTTV, then a CW affiliate.
WISH, which had been the CBS outlet, then became the new home of the CW. At the time, WISH was owned by LIN Media.
FCC rules prohibit common ownership of two top 4 stations in a market, but the agency has said it would consider exceptions or waivers on a case-by-case basis.
Nexstar will have to do more than just convince the FCC it deserves an exception or waiver of the rule. The Justice Department is closely scrutinizing duopolies and could nix the Indianapolis combo on antitrust grounds even if the FCC OKs it.
According to the application, the merger involves 13 markets with overlapping Nexstar and Tribune stations. Two would create permissible duopolies of one top four station and one non-top four station.
Eleven would create impermissible top four combos. In 10 of the 11, the filing says, Nexstar will divest one of the stations to comply with the top four prohibition. But in one — Indianapolis — it will take a stab at the case-by-case waiver.
Earlier this week, in a separate filing, Nexstar revealed plans for three markets, saying it would sell WTKR Norfolk, Va.; WGNT Portsmouth, Va.; and WNEP Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The application also acknowledges that the merger would swell Nexstar’s TV household coverage to 47.1% — way over the 39% national ownership cap.
To get below the cap, Nexstar said that it would sell all of its stations in certain markets, but did not say which ones. It said it would file its divestiture plans for compliance as soon as they are finalized.