The path to regulatory approval for a mega-merger of two broadcast television conglomerates could result in the sale of one of their stations in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
Sinclair Broadcast Group said last week that it will try to sell either WWMT-Channel 3, a CBS affiliate in Kalamazoo, or Fox 17 WXMI in Grand Rapids — which is owned by Tribune Media Co. — as the two look to finalize a controversial $3.9 billion merger.
In addition to the West Michigan stations, the Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair said it plans to sell stations in New York City and Chicago, as well as in seven other markets around the country, in order to comply with FCC regulations related to station ownership.
Attempts to reach executives with Sinclair and WWMT were unsuccessful, while representatives from Fox 17 and Tribune Media both declined to comment.
According to a report in Variety, 21st Century Fox is said to be in talks to buy the Tribune-owned assets in six of the major markets with overlapping ownership. Fox 17 in Grand Rapids was not among the stations listed as being a part of the deal.
Variety also reported that McLean, Va.-based Tegna Inc. was in talks with Sinclair about acquiring the Tribune assets in smaller markets. However, Tegna currently owns WZZM 13, the Grand Rapids-based ABC affiliate.
The proposed sale could mean changes ahead for the West Michigan market, which ranks as the 44th largest designated market area in the United States, reaching 709,670 viewing households, according to a January report from Nielsen.
MiBiz first reported on the proposed merger and its impact on the West Michigan region last October. At that time, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai publicly stated his support of loosening or getting rid of long-standing rules that prohibit large media conglomerates from owning multiple stations in the same market.
Since then, Pai and the FCC board have followed through with some measures such as eliminating a ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in a market.
The regulatory changes from the FCC have led some to question whether the rule-cutting was purely for the benefit of Sinclair, which many regard as a conservative-leaning company that’s been accused of providing slanted coverage in favor of President Donald Trump.
Moreover, the FCC’s Inspector General is investigating Pai to determine whether the regulatory rollback was provided to support Sinclair, according to a Feb. 15 report from Reuters.
The decision to investigate Pai’s connections with the company comes as welcome news to many Democratic lawmakers who had asked for the investigation.
“For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting,” Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey congressman, said in a statement.
“I am particularly concerned about reports that Chairman Pai may have coordinated with Sinclair to time a series of Commission actions to benefit the company,” said Pallone, also the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “I am grateful to the FCC’s Inspector General that he has decided to take up this important investigation.”