This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
KUTV-Ch. 2's parent company is buying KSTU-Ch. 13's parent company and the president of CEO of Sinclair said he thinks the FCC will allow his company to keep both stations, despite the fact that would violate regulations.
Sinclair Broadcasting will pay $3.9 billion and assume another $2.7 billion in debt for Tribune Broadcasting, which owns 42 stations including Fox 13 in Salt Lake City. FCC regulations prohibit one company from owning two of the top four stations in any TV market, and KUTV and KSTU are No. 1 and No. 2 in ratings and billing in Utah.
But in a conference call, Sinclair chief Christopher S. Ripley said, "We don't think we need to sell any of [Tribune's stations]. When you take a look at all the overlaps, they really have no impact on overall competition and we hope that the regulators will agree with us."
But Ripley also acknowledged the possibility that the FCC will not agree.
"If I was to narrow it down to markets that were most likely to have a divestiture, if we have any, they would be Wilkes-Barre, St. Louis and Salt Lake," he said, also acknowledging that Sinclair could work trades with other station owners to overcome any FCC or federal anti-trust regulator objections.
"Swaps are high on the list of priorities," Ripley said. "I think those assets ... are going to be highly sought by other broadcasters.
Sinclair already owns three stations in the Salt Lake market (KUTV, KJZZ-Ch. 14 and KMYU-Ch. 12); NexStar owns two (KTVX-Ch. 4 and KUCW-Ch. 30). But neither includes two of the top four stations.
This has happened in Utah before. In 2001, KSTU's then-owner, Fox Television, bought KTVX's parent company and quickly divested itself of KTVX as part of a trade involving two other stations.
There are no proposed rule changes at the FCC that would allow Sinclair to own both KUTV and KSTU. There's no precedent for the FCC granting a waiver to this rule.
The caveat here, however, is that the Federal Communications Commission under the Trump administration and new FCC chairman Avit Pai is on a deregulation binge right now, and so it's difficult to say with absolute certainty what the possibilities might be.