The Nexstar-Tribune merger: Déjà vu all over again

Armstrong Williams | 12/27/2018, 12:07 p.m.
In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” The recent announcement that Nexstar Media Group will ...
Armstrong Williams

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” The recent announcement that Nexstar Media Group will be buying Tribune Media Company for $4.1 billion sure looks a lot like the $3.9 billion merger Sinclair Broadcast Group had with Tribune, just $200 million more. The merger will make Nexstar the largest local TV broadcaster in the nation, with 216 stations in 118 markets. In addition, under the UHF Discount, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit recently upheld, the FCC will count only half of the audience reached by nearly all of the stations Nexstar will hold. So although actual coverage might exceed the 39 percent cap on the National Audience Reach any one television owner might have under the Communications Act, that number will be halved, allowing the merger.

That is why the Department of Justice and the FCC will undoubtedly have the same concerns they did with the Sinclair proposal and require numerous station divestitures. Accordingly, like the Sinclair-Tribune merger, the Nexstar-Tribune merger presents a historic opportunity to advance minority ownership and diversity within the context of the divestiture requirements the FCC and the DOJ, pursuant to its antitrust analysis, will have. As one of the only African-American owners of television stations in the nation, I sincerely hope that happens.

My Howard Stirk Holding companies employ a diverse and multiracial workforce. More than 50 percent of my employees are minorities. HSH provides diversity from entry-level positions to upper-level management positions. Minorities are employed as station general managers, directors of operations and creative directors. None of these important opportunities and advancements would have been possible without the opportunities afforded by my working with an experienced broadcaster, in my case Sinclair. Through the use of Joint Sales Agreements and Shared Service Agreements, I had the opportunity to obtain financing that would have otherwise been out of reach, and to learn and operate in the highly competitive broadcast industry. The Nexstar-Tribune merger presents a similar opportunity to advance minority ownership and opportunity, and the FCC and DOJ should take full advantage of the chance.

Forty years ago, the FCC released its Statement of Policy on Minority Ownership of Broadcast Facilities, acknowledging the need to enhance minority broadcast ownership. Sadly, precious little has actually happened since then to advance minority ownership. Oh sure, there has been plenty of rhetoric by the FCC and “public interest” groups about minority ownership uniquely advancing community service, diversity and providing an overarching public benefit, etc. But in my case, just at the critical time when there was a real chance to advance African-American ownership with the spin-off by Sinclair to my HSH company of three stations in markets with no minority television ownership, some complained that the sale shouldn’t be permitted because I was buying the stations at an under-market price. The claim was, of course, unsubstantiated, but it was nevertheless shocking to me that rather than credit Sinclair for helping make a way to advance minority ownership and diversity, and respect me for being willing to take the capital risk, groups claiming to want to encourage minority ownership were vigorously opposing it.

So in the hope that history does not repeat itself, minorities should be accorded a real opportunity to acquire the licenses Nexstar will be required to spin-off, regardless of the price to be paid. Hopefully the FCC and DOJ understand that as they review this merger and that they work to assist the real advancement of the public interest with the expansion of minority ownership and opportunity, and they will remove any impediments that might derail this historic opportunity.

Mr. Williams is manager/sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. Listen to Mr. Williams on Sirius XM126 Urban View nightly 6 8 p.m., EST. Follow on Twitter @arightside.