Chicago’s news/talk WGN (720) may be poised to get a new owner. Multiple media reports say a bidding war has erupted over buying Tribune Media and its much sought-after portfolio of 42 television stations. Among the potential bidders are the private equity firm Blackstone Group, 21st Century Fox, Nexstar Broadcasting and Sinclair Broadcast Group—the latter of which already has a sliver of radio in its portfolio.
Sinclair acquired four Seattle-Tacoma radio stations as part of its 2013 buyout of Fisher Broadcasting and has opted to hold onto the cluster. The reports result in a 6% spike for Tribune’s share price during Monday trading.
The potential Tribune sale—first reported over the weekend by the Financial Times and Bloomberg—could top the company’s current market capitalization of $3.2 billion. The deadline for Tribune bids is Thursday according to insiders.
One scenario could have Fox submitting a joint bid with Blackstone whereby the broadcast company contributes its existing 28-station group while the private equity firm ponies up the required cash. Wells Fargo media analyst Marci Ryvicker says that the Fox-Tribune rollup would not require any spinoffs to comply with the FCC’s media ownership limits.
In a note to clients she calls such a proposal “pretty creative,” adding Tribune “might be Fox’s for the taking.” It’s unclear what the fate of Tribune’s sole radio station could be, but some observers say the chances it will be sold are now greater than ever.
The bidding war broke just two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission announced it was reinstating its so-called UHF discount rule allowing big television station group owners to add additional assets. Tribune was among those that celebrated the move, calling it “a welcome step towards creating a more level playing field for all local broadcasters in their relationships with television networks, satellite operators, cable providers and streaming video services.” It has declined comment on a possible sale although it launched a strategic review in early 2016.