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WADL sale termination date pushed to June at FCC’s urging

The extension of the shot clock came at the urging of a top FCC official.

The extension of the shot clock came at the urging of a top FCC official.

An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)
An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)

The buyer and seller of a local television station in Detroit has accepted the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) guidance to extend out the termination date of their deal, The Desk has learned.

The station, WADL (Channel 38), and prospective buyer Mission Broadcasting now say the shot clock for the deal to be consummated will run out on June 29, or about 90 days out from their prior termination date of March 31.

The shot clock was extended after officials from Mission and WADL’s current owner, Adell Broadcasting, held meetings with FCC officials on the matter.

The sale, announced last May, has been pending approval at the FCC following objections levied by cable and satellite industry groups who argue that the transfer of WADL’s license to Mission will benefit the much-larger broadcast operation Nexstar Media Group, who operates all Mission stations through shared services agreements.

If the FCC approves the sale, Nexstar and Mission are expected to move the CW Network affiliation in Detroit to WADL on a full-time basis. Currently, the CW Network is affiliated with a station owned by the E. W. Scripps Company after WADL abruptly pulled CW programming from its station last November.

The cable and satellite groups say moving the CW Network to WADL would allow Nexstar and Mission to charge higher carriage fees for the channel, and would give Nexstar too much concentration of power over local broadcast stations in Detroit and elsewhere.

Adell and Mission tried to assuage those concerns by affirming WADL’s position as a must-carry channel if the deal is approved — a status that would allow cable and satellite companies to offer the channel without direct payments to Mission or Nexstar for about three years.

Still, the matter has been pending at the FCC, with officials telling Adell and Mission that the agency needed to work through a few other administrative issues before they could settle the objections concerning WADL.

Those other issues weren’t specifically mentioned in records reviewed by The Desk concerning the FCC’s meetings with Adell and Mission, but the agency has imposed several fines against Nexstar and Mission over their shared services agreements and cable retransmission consent negotiations concerning channels in other areas — specifically, New York and Hawaii.

Last week, the FCC proposed a $1.2 million fine against Nexstar for its de facto control of WPIX (Channel 11), the CW Network affiliate in New York City licensed to Mission whose station operations are entirely controlled by Nexstar. The fine was rooted in the idea that Nexstar exceeded a federal rules that limit the number of TV stations one broadcaster may own by exerting too much oversight and direct control of WPIX.

In addition to the fine, the FCC has ordered Mission to sell WPIX to Nexstar (which would involve Nexstar divesting certain stations of its own to satisfy ownership rules) or to an uninvolved third party.

Prior to last week’s fine, the FCC proposed a $720,000 financial penalty against Nexstar for failing to negotiate carriage of its two Honolulu-based stations with a cable operator in Hawaii. The FCC said Nexstar’s demand to the cable operator that it drop a prior complaint made to the agency was proof that the broadcaster did not negotiate carriage of the channels in good faith, as required under the law.

Officials at Nexstar said they intend to fight both fines. Last month, the company appealed a $150,000 financial penalty against the broadcaster over contract negotiations concerning carriage of WPIX-TV on Comcast TV systems in the New York area.

Reached for comment last week, WADL owner Kevin Adell said the FCC’s recent actions against Nexstar are unlikely to impact the sale of his station to Mission, even though one of the proposed penalties involved Nexstar operating a station licensed to Mission.

In prior conversations with The Desk, Adell affirmed Nexstar intends to bankroll Mission’s purchase of WADL, and will operate the station through a shared services agreement. Last week, Adell said the action against Nexstar over WPIX was “specific to New York,” and that the FCC’s action opens the door for his deal to be approved.

Through a text message exchange with The Desk on Monday, Adell said FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel — who has attended some of the meetings with WADL and Mission over the past few months — has offered helpful advice through what has been a complicated process.

During their last meeting, Adell said Rosenworcel informed the parties that the agency was close to making a decision on the sale, and advised both sides to work together to extend the termination date of the sale.

“[She said] they’re very close, you might not need it, but we took her advice and got the extension anyway,” he said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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