Business & Tech

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox may be part of a bid for Tribune Media

Rupert Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox could be part of a bid for Tribune Media’s TV stations.
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images/File 2016
Rupert Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox could be part of a bid for Tribune Media’s TV stations.

NEW YORK — 21st Century Fox is in talks with Blackstone Group, the giant investment firm, to make an offer for Tribune Media and its stable of television stations, people briefed on the negotiations said Sunday night, a move that would potentially forestall a rival bid for Tribune.

The move by Fox and Blackstone is aimed at not only bolstering Fox’s television portfolio but also beating an offer by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country’s biggest station operator, before a bidding deadline this week. The people briefed on the talks spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are continuing.

Under the terms of the potential arrangement, Blackstone would contribute cash to the venture, while 21st Century Fox, the huge entertainment company run by the Murdoch family, would contribute its 28 owned-and-operated stations.

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Representatives for 21st Century Fox and Blackstone declined to comment on their talks, which were reported earlier by Bloomberg News and The Financial Times.

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Tribune, which was formed when its parent company divided its television and its print media holdings into two separate companies, owns 42 stations — and has the most Fox affiliates of any station owner. As of Friday, the company’s market value stood at about $3.2 billion.

The surge of interest in Tribune comes after the Federal Communications Commission decided last week to change regulations governing station ownership.

The FCC’s move to reinstate the so-called UHF discount — backed by the agency’s two Republican commissioners and opposed by its sole Democratic one — essentially loosened rules limiting how many stations a single operator could own, though companies are still forbidden from covering more than 39 percent of US households.

Bringing back the discount, analysts have said, all but guarantees new efforts at consolidating the television industry even further. Broadcasters, including Tribune, praised the FCC’s decision last week as one that lets them become more competitive with rival service providers such as cable and satellite companies.

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“Today’s action by the Federal Communications Commission is a welcome step toward creating a more level playing field for all local broadcasters in their relationships with television networks, satellite operators, cable providers, and streaming video services,” Tribune said in a statement last week.

The expected return of the UHF discount under the Trump administration was what led companies like Sinclair, which has 173 stations, and Fox to weigh bids for Tribune. Other broadcasters are said to be considering takeover offers for Tribune as well.

The FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, a Republican, has hinted that he is open to further deregulation of television station ownership.

For Fox, blocking Sinclair’s bid for Tribune would eliminate the creation of a more formidable opponent when negotiations for broadcasting fees occur.

Fox, embattled by sexual harassment scandals at its Fox News cable network, has been working to shore up its television empire in other ways. It is waiting for British regulatory approval to buy full control of Sky, the British satellite television giant in which it owns a 39 percent stake. Two weeks ago, that pursuit was delayed by the British communications regulator as it continues to review whether the combined company would be “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting license.

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Sinclair, Fox, and Blackstone all have connections to the Trump administration. Sinclair, which is based in Hunt Valley, Md., is led by David D. Smith, a backer of President Trump. Fox News is widely known as one of the president’s favorite television news outlets. And Blackstone’s chief executive and co-founder is Stephen Schwarzman, who leads the White House’s council of top business leaders.