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Published in Economic Development

Scripps bid for WXMI, other stations could pave way for Nexstar-Tribune merger

BY Friday, March 22, 2019 11:18am

GRAND RAPIDS — E.W. Scripps Co. plans to acquire eight television stations, including Grand Rapids-based Fox 17 WXMI, in the most recent arrangement to come from the mega-merger of a pair the nation’s largest media giants.

The deal is part of a series of moves Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc. (Nasdaq: NXST) must take to finalize its acquisition of Chicago-based Tribune Media Co. (NYSE: TRCO), the current owners of Fox 17 WXMI. Nexstar and Tribune Media announced this week that Nexstar has entered into “definitive agreements” to sell 19 stations in 15 markets. The sales would close at the completion of the Nexstar deal for Tribune.

Under the proposed deal, Cincinnati-based Scripps (Nasdaq: SSP) will acquire eight stations in seven markets for $580 million, including WXMI, West Michigan’s Fox affiliate. Virginia-based TEGNA Inc. (NYSE: TGNA), the parent company of WZZM in Grand Rapids, also will acquire eleven stations in eight markets for $740 million.

For Scripps, the acquisition would grow its local footprint to 59 stations in 42 markets with a reach of nearly 30 percent of U.S. TV households. The company, which will become the nation’s fourth-largest independent broadcaster, already owns WSYM, the Fox affiliate in Lansing, and has a duopoly in Detroit with ABC-affiliated WXYZ and MyNetworkTV-affiliated WMYD.  

Adding a fourth station in Michigan “allows Scripps to deepen its presence in a key political battleground state,” Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson said in a statement to MiBiz.

“We see opportunity here for bolstering our political coverage ahead of the 2020 election as well as benefiting from additional scale in our political sales operations,” he said.

The company estimates that its stations will reach 78 percent of households in Michigan.

Symson said the “140-year history of quality journalism” at Scripps is a testament to the company’s focus of “serving local audiences with news and information that can better their lives and their communities.”

As MiBiz previously reported, new ownership could bring with it different priorities, philosophies, and messaging — as well as uncertainty for local operations.  

To close its deal for Tribune Media, which was announced late last year, Nexstar must divest of certain Tribune Media stations to comply with FCC regulations restricting the number of broadcast licenses a firm can hold in each geographic market.

The Scripps acquisition of the Nexstar-Tribune stations is expected to close at the same time as the Nexstar-Tribune merger. The company anticipates it will finance the transaction through a mix of term loans and unsecured debt, bringing its total debt to $1.85 billion.

If the deal is approved by the FCC, it would also make Nexstar the nation’s largest local television broadcaster, unseating Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which tried unsuccessfully to buy Tribune Media last year.

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