Sinclair responds to calls for Senate hearing on Tribune deal

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Sinclair executives maintain that the deal is necessary to keep pace with larger pay-TV operators.

Senate Democrats have asked for a special hearing on Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion deal for Tribune Media, and Sinclair has responded by welcoming the chance to work with legislators.

Rebecca Hanson, vice president of strategy and policy for Sinclair, said the broadcaster is looking forward to showing policymakers the benefits the Tribune deal has in store for consumers and communities. But she also warned that the deal is necessary for broadcasters like Sinclair to keep pace with larger pay-TV operators.

"At a time of rapidly accelerating competition from the nation’s largest cable, satellite, wireless and internet companies, the combined Sinclair-Tribune will have the wherewithal to compete through innovation, including the roll out of ‘Next Gen’ television and enhanced investment in local news and original programming," Hanson said in a statement obtained by Broadcasting & Cable.

Sinclair’s comments are in response to a letter Senate Democrats on Monday sent to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, both Republicans. The letter was signed by Sens. Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell, Brian Schatz, Al Franken, Cory Booker, Tammy Baldwin and Catherine Cortez Masto.

The senators expressed concerns about broadcast consolidation as the proposed Tribune deal would give Sinclair control of more than 200 stations. They also requested a hearing on the proposed reinstatement of the FCC’s UHF discount.

RELATED: D.C. Appeals Court halts return of FCC's UHF discount for TV broadcasters

Last year the FCC, then under Chairman Tom Wheeler, did away with the UHF discount allowing broadcasters to count UHF stations as 50% toward the nationwide ownership cap, which limits a broadcaster’s national audience reach to 39%.

This year, the FCC voted to reinstate the rule before eventually undertaking a wider review of media ownership rules. But after a group including Free Press, National Hispanic Media Coalition and Common Cause filed an emergency motion, the D.C. Court of Appeals granted an administrative stay of the UHF discount. The court reasoned that the stay would provide sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay pending review and said that its action was not a ruling on the merits of that motion.

RELATED: 2 winners and 2 losers from the $3.9B Sinclair-Tribune deal

Sinclair’s deal for Tribune could hinge on whether the UHF discount is reinstated. By bringing Tribune’s TV assets into its stable of stations, Sinclair would take control of a 215 stations. Factor in other outstanding transactions like the recent Bonten Media deal, and Sinclair will hold 233 stations in about 108 markets, according to Moody’s.

Editor's note: This article's headline has been updated to clarify the meaning of Sinclair's statement.