The cable group tells the FCC that the $90 million purchase of eight stations uses joint sales agreements to sidestep FCC ownership regulations that bar ownership of two of the top four rated TV stations in a market.
ACA Fighting Sinclair’s New Age Buy
The American Cable Association has asked the FCC to block Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $90 million acquisition of New Age Media’s eight TV stations, alleging that the transaction would clear the way for Sinclair to coordinate retransmission consent agreements for two of the Big 4 TV network affiliates in both the Tallahassee and Gainesville, Fla., markets.
Under the deal, Sinclair is proposing to use joint sales agreements with its long-time “sidecar” affiliate Cunningham Broadcasting Corp. to coordinate the retransmission consent deals in the two Florida markets, sidestepping FCC ownership regulations that bar ownership of two of the top four rated TV stations in a market, ACA alleged in its Nov. 4 petition to deny at the FCC.
Under the deal, WTLH, the Fox affiliate in the Tallahassee-Thomasville DMA, would go to Cunningham, where Sinclair already owns WTWC, the NBC affiliate, ACA said.
In the Gainesville DMA, WNBW, the NBC affiliate, would be assigned to Cunningham, while WGFL, the CBS affiliate, would go to Sinclair, ACA said.
“Sinclair acknowledges that the commission’s rules would not permit it to acquire all of these stations directly,” ACA said in its FCC filing. “Instead, it proposes to use Cunningham, one of its well-known sidecar companies with which it has close and established ties, as well as explicit coordination agreements, to establish its ‘virtual duopolies’ in these markets,” ACA continued. “While Cunningham would nominally own these stations, Sinclair would retain many key station functions — including the ability to act as the stations’ ‘agent’ in retransmission consent negotiations,” ACA said.
The petition asks the FCC to deny the New Age transaction — or to at very least place conditions on the deal to “ensure that Sinclair does not use sharing agreements with Cunningham to coordinate negotiations of retransmission consent agreements.”
A spokesman for Sinclair could not immediately be reached for comment.
ACA has also asked the FCC to deny Sinclair’s $985 million acquisition of Allbritton Communications, alleging that sidecar deals in that transaction would allow Sinclair to negotiate retransmission consent agreements for the CBS and ABC affiliates in Harrisburg, Pa., and the Fox and ABC affiliates in Charleston, S.C.
ACA, Time Warner Cable and DirecTV also filed a petition to deny seeking to block Gannett’s proposed $2.2 billion acquisition of Belo, alleging that the transaction would give Gannett “new virtual duopolies and facilitate coordinated retransmission consent negotiations” in St. Louis, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.