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The parent company of KUTV-Ch. 2 is trying to buy the parent company of KSTU-Ch. 13, so is it possible that the two local stations could operate as partners?
Probably not. Almost certainly not. Under current Federal Communications Commission regulations, absolutely not.
The unknown factor here is that Donald Trump is in the White House, the GOP controls both houses of Congress, and two of three current FCC commissioners are Republicans including Chairman Ajit Pai, who is big on loosening regulations.
Addressing the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Pai decried the FCC's "outdated rules" and promised to "cut red tape." With almost 1,000 pages of regulations on the FCC books, Pai vowed to evaluate "which should be relaxed, and which should be repealed."
The FCC just made a change that will allow companies to own more TV stations. Among those who lobbied hard for that was Sinclair Broadcasting (which owns KUTV, KJZZ-Ch. 14 and KMYU-Ch. 12), because Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Broadcasting (which owns KSTU).
This is not about the Utah stations. Sinclair owns/operates 173 stations; Tribune owns/operates 44, including seven in huge markets. The Utah stations would be a footnote in this deal, if it happens.
As of this writing, that's by no means certain. There are even reports that Nexstar (which owns KTVX-Ch. 4 and KUCW-Ch. 30) might bid for Tribune.
This is possible because the FCC restored the "UHF discount," counting those stations' coverage less than VHF stations which is meaningless in this digital era so that it's possible Sinclair could absorb Tribune and, by selling off a few stations, stay under the current limit of reaching no more than 39 percent of the nation's viewers. Or the FCC could raise that limit.
A company can own more than one station in the same TV market, but it cannot own two stations that are among the top four-ranked stations in the market, as KUTV and KSTU are. (That's also true in several other markets where Sinclair and Tribune both own stations.) Pai didn't even hint at changing that rule at NAB. So if Sinclair buys Tribune, it would have to sell KUTV or KSTU. And it has a lot invested in KUTV.
This has happened in Utah before. In 2001, KSTU's then-owner, Fox Television, bought KTVX's parent company and quickly traded the station to another company.
Again, it's possible that the current administration could try to change the rule, which would be a terrible thing. It would certainly be bad for Utahns, because it would mean one fewer news outlet one fewer voice in the local media landscape.
The FCC is supposed to look out for the public and foster competition. So, as unlikely as it is that KUTV and KSTU could share ownership, it should never even be in the realm of possibility.
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.