Allbritton to Sell ABC Affiliates, Including KATV, to Sinclair Broadcast Group

Allbritton to Sell ABC Affiliates, Including KATV, to Sinclair Broadcast Group
KATV-TV, Channel 7

Allbritton Communications of Arlington, Va., which owns KATV-TV, Channel 7, and other ABC affiliates, said Monday that it is selling those television stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group of Hunt Valley, Md., the country's largest television station owner.

According to Politico, which is also owned by Allbritton, the deal is worth $985 million. An Allbritton news release said the sale is scheduled to close in the fourth quarter.

"Sinclair is the ideal buyer of our superb television stations. Its existing reach and history of innovation matches exceptionally well with our long tradition of viewer service and news gathering excellence," Allbritton CEO Robert Allbritton said in a news release. 

"[Sinclair President and CEO] David Smith and his team have been a pleasure to work with. I am confident that their leadership and resources will enable our stations to reach new heights of service to our communities."

Allbritton announced in May its intention to sell those stations, saying it wants to focus on its digital properties, including Politico. The TV portfolio includes KATV, Allbritton's flagship station WJLA-TV in Washington D.C., and NewsChannel 8, a 24-hour news channel that's also in the nation's capital.

Reporting the news on its website, KATV called the deal a "behind-the-scenes business matter."

"As a note to our viewers, KATV wants to emphasize that this is only a behind-the-scenes business matter happening at the corporate level," the station wrote. "KATV will continue to bring you the best local news, weather and sports coverage you have counted on us to provide for more than 50 years."

KATV General Manager Mark Rose did not return a phone call before deadline.

Doug Krile, executive director of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association, called Sinclair a long-time industry player that "obviously has been doing something right to become the biggest in the country." He said the company has been known for its leadership in centralized operations. 

Under the deal, Sinclair will purchase the stock of Allbritton's parent company, Perpetual Corporation, and the equity interest of an affiliate, Charleston Television LLC. To comply with federal local TV ownership rules, Sinclair said it expects to sell the licenses of four of its existing stations in three markets -- Birmingham, Ala., Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., -- and operate them under shared services and joint sales agreements.

"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," Smith said in a news release.

"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 their 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."

A Year of TV Deals

The sale of KATV, which has been owned by Allbritton since 1983, is the latest in string of television station sales across the country and in Arkansas.

At the beginning of the year, Mission Broadcasting of Westlake, Ohio, closed on its purchase of Fox affiliate KLRT-TV, Channel 16, and CW affiliate KASN-TV, Channel 38, in Little Rock. Those stations are now being operated by Nexstar Broadcasting Group of Irving, Texas, under an "outsourcing agreement." Nexstar owns NBC affiliate KARK-TV, Channel 4, and MyNetworkTV affiliate KARZ-TV, Channel 42, in Little Rock, as well as KNWA-TV in Fayetteville.

On July 1, Tribune Co. said it reached a deal to buy Local TV Holdings LLC's 19 TV stations, including CBS affiliate KFSM-TV, Channel 5, and MyNetworkTV affiliate KXNW-TV, Channel 25, of Fort Smith/Fayetteville. 

In June, Gannett Co., the publisher of USA Today and owner of Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV-TV, Channel 11, announced plans to buy TV station owner Belo Corp. for about $1.5 billion. The acquisition will nearly double Gannett's portfolio of stations from 23 to 43, reaching nearly one-third of U.S. households. 

A week before the Belo deal, Media General Inc. and New Young Broadcasting Holding Co. announced plans to combine, operating 30 TV stations in 27 markets. The move came after Media General sold all its newspapers last year to focus on broadcasting.

Sinclair itself has also been buying stations, quickly adding to its stable of mid-sized market properties. Before Monday, the company had announced three other deals in 2013, on and was track to have doubled in size to operate 134 stations in 69 markets.

"The current industry climate is very good for acquisitions, such as the Allbritton/Sinclair deal," Krile said. "Most are driven by the economies of scale -- the ability to centralize certain station operations that do not require a local presence."

Television stations are also seen as particularly lucrative because they attract billions of dollars in political campaign spending. And companies that own large porfolios of stations can command higher fees from cable and satellite companies that must pay to include local stations in their lineups.

From the Allbritton news release:

Allbritton Communications Company ("ACC") announced today that the Allbritton family ("Allbritton") has entered into an agreement to sell the stock of ACC's parent company, Perpetual Corporation and the equity interest of an affiliate, Charleston Television, LLC to the Sinclair Broadcast Group.    

Included in the Arlington, Virginia-based Allbritton station group are seven ABC affiliates in the following markets:

WJLA-TV, Washington, DC (#8)

WCFT-TV/WJSU-TV/WBMA-LP, simulcasting to Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston, AL (#42)

WHTM-TV, Harrisburg, PA (#43)

KATV, Little Rock, AR (#56)

KTUL, Tulsa, OK (#59)

WSET-TV, Lynchburg, VA (#68)

WCIV, Charleston, SC (#98) (held in an affiliated company)

Also included is NewsChannel 8, the 24-hour local cable/satellite news service collocated with WJLA and providing coverage to the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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