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Sinclair Broadcast to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, giving it control over 215 local TV stations

The WGN Radio sign appears on the side of Tribune Tower, Monday, May 1, 2017, in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Sinclair Broadcast Group said today it will pay $3.9 billion to buy Tribune Media Company and its 42 local TV stations, beating out 21st Century Fox to land the deal.

Sinclair already has 173 local news stations. The combined operations of the two companies will create the largest-single group of local TV stations.

The deal calls for Sinclair to acquire 100 percent of Tribune Media for $43.50 a share. Sinclair also will assume about $2.7 billion in Tribune Media debt, according to the companies.

Tribune Media owns local TV stations across the country, including WGN in Chicago, WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles and WDCW in Washington. It also has minority stakes in Food Network and CareerBuilder.

Based in Hunt Valley, Md., north of Baltimore, Sinclair mostly owns stations in smaller markets, such as WUTV in Buffalo and WVTV in Milwaukee. One of its largest stations is WJLA in Washington.

“This is a transformational acquisition for Sinclair that will open up a myriad of opportunities for the company,” Chris Ripley, chief executive of Sinclair, said in a news release.

Tribune Media said in a statement that it expects Federal Communications Commission’s rules on ownership and antitrust regulations may result in Sinclair selling some stations.

Current FCC rules limit the national TV audience that any single owner can reach at 39 percent. Regulations also prohibit any owner from running more than two stations in most markets.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — who was elevated to his post by President Trump earlier this year — has indicated in speeches that he wants to loosen the TV ownership rules. Last month, Pai’s FCC reinstated a rule that helps station owners get around the national audience cap.  The so-called UHF discount allows stations to count just 50 percent of its audience from UHF stations toward the audience cap. Last fall, the FCC, under President Obama, revoked the UHF cap. Now, with its return last month, stations have more room to stay under the cap.

A week ago, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox reportedly planned to join the bidding for Tribune.

With Sinclair beating out its much bigger rival, the company gains access to Tribune’s larger metro markets.

“This shows that Sinclair needs to be taken seriously as a media powerhouse,” said Matt Rizzetta, head of public relations firm North 6th Agency in New York.