With WGN back in, Sinclair revises Tribune deal again

WGN TV

While the future of “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-Channel 9 and WGN 720-AM hangs in the balance, Sinclair Broadcast Group isn’t giving up yet.

The Maryland-based broadcaster still hopes to salvage its $3.9 billion agreement to acquire Chicago-based Tribune Media, parent company of WGN and 41 other stations nationwide, despite a move to derail the long-delayed deal Monday by the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC chairman Ajit Pat expressed “serious concerns” about Sinclair’s plan to divest WGN, which involved transferring ownership of the station to a Maryland auto dealer while retaining control over programming and advertising through a shared services agreement. Reportedly questioning whether Sinclair’s actions “potentially involve deception,” Pai moved to shift the application to an administrative law judge — a maneuver seen as effectively blocking the merger.

Sinclair Broadcast Group

On Wednesday Sinclair announced that it would amend its application yet again and abandon plans to divest WGN. “Sinclair will simply acquire that station as part of the Tribune acquisition, which is, and has always been, fully permissible under the national ownership cap,” the company said in a statement.

Sinclair also said it would abandon plans to sell stations in Dallas and Houston to the mother of a Sinclair executive and instead would put them into a trust for later sale.

“There can be no question that the FCC’s concerns with sales to certain parties have been eliminated in light of the withdrawals of the applications relating to Dallas, Houston and Chicago,” the statement said. “Accordingly, we call upon the FCC to approve the modified Tribune acquisition in order to bring closure to this extraordinarily drawn-out process and to provide certainty to the thousands of Tribune employees who are looking for closure.”

Peter Kern, chief executive officer of Tribune Media, released a statement saying he was disappointed at the turn of events, while he sought to reassure employees that the company remains strong.

“I know this latest development creates more uncertainty about our merger, but try to stay focused on the business and the audiences, advertisers and communities we serve, just as you have done throughout the year,” Kern wrote in an internal email.

Tuesday’s comment of the day: Dave Heller: Bob Stroud has been excellent for decades. Congrats to him.