Sinclair to Buy Allbritton TV Station Group

$985 million deal gives Sinclair coveted D.C.-area news channel

A lot of TV groups would like to own a TV station in the nation's capital, but in the end the group next door got it done. Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group announced Monday it has a deal to purchase Allbritton's seven ABC affiliates, including WJLA in Washington, D.C., and local cable channel NewsChannel 8, for $985 million.

All eyes have been on Allbritton since the company announced in May it plans to exit the TV business to concentrate on Politico.

The addition of WJLA will give Sinclair, which owns and/or operates 140 TV stations in 72 markets, its largest market station. It will also add Allbritton stations in Birmingham, Ala.; Harrisburg, Penn.; Little Rock, Ark.; Tulsa, Okla.; Roanoke-Lynchburg, Va.; and Charleston, S.C. Once the deal closes, Sinclair will own 149 stations in 76 markets covering 38 percent of TV households. 

Because the deal will put Sinclair over the limit of the Federal Communications Commission's local TV ownership rules, the company expects to get around that obstacle by selling the license for stations in three of the markets—in Birmingham, Harrisburg, and Charleston—and provide sales and other nonprogramming support via shared service agreements. The business arrangements are similar to what Gannett said it plans to do when it announced its recent acquisition to buy Belo.

Sinclair, which has tried to launch a national news hub in the past, was particularly thrilled to pick up NewsChannel 8, intending to turn the channel into a national cable network. 

"To buy a full-blown news operation in our nation's capital and an infrastructure that allows us to be connected to our branches of government and be at the pulse of national issues is a once-in-a-lifetime event," said David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair.

"We are especially excited to acquire the NewsChannel 8 local news channel, not only for the content it can provide our existing news stations, but moreover because its regional cable presence provides the perfect platform should we decide to expand it into other markets, especially given the amount of local news we produce across our entire portfolio."

The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval, but Sinclair said he expects the transaction to close by the end of the year.

Sinclair's deal is the third big transaction in the TV business, following Gannett's acquisition of Belo and Tribune's agreement to buy Local TV.