Washington sources say the FCC chairman is studying what to do about station sales involving sharing arrangements and postponing action on pending transactions in the meantime.
Report: Wheeler Putting Brakes On SSAs
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has put a hold on station sale applications that include shared services agreements that allow broadcasters to set up sidecar companies to control key aspects of multiple TV stations in the same market — until he decides how he wants to handle sidecar deals in the future, Washington communications attorneys say.
Station transactions that include shared services and related joint sales agreements have been routinely approved by the agency in the past.
An FCC spokesperson declined to comment on the rumored hold.
Wheeler announced his intent to beef up agency scrutiny of sharing arrangements during a town hall meeting in Oakland, Calif., earlier this month.
He said he wanted to “do things differently going forward on what were called these shell corporations” in recent FCC decisions approving Gannett’s purchase of Belo and Tribune’s acquisition of the Local TV LLC. In both of those deals, the FCC approved the formation of new SSAs.
But in the Gannett-Belo merger ruling, the FCC also cautioned that it has an affirmative obligation to insure that every deal serves the public interest.
“That is why applicants … should not forget that our public interest mandate encompasses giving careful attention to the economic effects of, and incentives created by, a proposed transaction taken as a whole and its consistency with the commission’s policies under the [Communications] Act, including our policies in favor of competition, diversity and localism.”
One pending deal that could be affected by the hold in Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $985 million purchase of Allbritton Communications. It includes sharing arrangements involving stations in two markets — Harrisburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C.
Wheeler has been holding his cards close to the vest on what sorts of changes he is considering. “Stay tuned,” Wheeler said in response to a recent query by TVNewsCheck for details.