The Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to buy the seven ABC-affiliated stations and local cable TV news property NewsChannel8 from Allbritton Communications Co. of Rosslyn, according to a release from Sinclair. The sale price of $985 million was roughly in line with industry expectations and derives in significant part from the inclusion of WJLA, the ABC affiliate that serves the D.C. region, the eighth-largest “designated market area” in the country.
The other stations serve the following markets: Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston, Ala.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Little Rock, Ark.; Tulsa, Okla.; Roanoke, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. NewsChannel8, like WJLA, covers the Washington area.
When Allbritton chief Robert Allbritton announced in May that he was selling the TV stations, one question arose: Why now? The nearly $1 billion price for the properties tidily answers that question. As pointed out previously by the Erik Wemple Blog, revenue at Allbritton had recovered nicely from the recession. According to securities filings, the company’s revenue has trended as follows:
2005: $194 million
2006: $216 million
2007: $219 million
2008: $205 million
2009: $181 million
2010: $201 million
2011: $197 million
2012: $214 million
That final figure was inflated by big-time spending associated with election-year politics. But even so, recent times have been favorable to sales of television stations. The Tribune Co., for instance, recently agreed to purchase 19 stations from Local TV Holdings for $2.7 billion, and Gannett Co. agreed to purchase 20 stations from Belo as part of a $2.2 billion deal.
In its release on the sale, Sinclair, which will “will own and operate, program or provide sales services to 149 television stations in 76 markets,” states that it will sell the license and “certain related assets” of its existing stations that serve Birmingham, Ala., Harrisburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., in order to comply with the ownership rules of the Federal Communications Commission.
The Sinclair release comes with the standard statement of excitement: “We are thrilled to add the Allbritton properties to our growing portfolio and national footprint, commented David Smith, President and CEO of Sinclair.”
Robert Allbritton, in his May announcement of his intent to sell the properties, stressed that he would focus his efforts on Politico and other ventures in the new-media space. Since then, Politico has hired former Foreign Policy top editor Susan Glasser to edit a new Politico magazine and recently announced a blitz of hires.
Sinclair will hold a conference call tomorrow on its purchase agreement. More to come.