Clear Channel TV sale gets OK

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WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators greenlighted Clear Channel Communications' $1.3 billion sale of 35 TV stations to private investors -- as long as the new owner sells TV stations in nine markets where it fails to comply with FCC ownership rules.

While Newport Television, a private-equity group controlled by Providence Equity Partners, has agreed to sell some of the stations, the FCC gave it six months to find buyers in the following markets: Bakersfield, Calif.; San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif,; Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Salt Lake City; Fresno-Visalia, Calif.; San Antonio; and Monterey-Salinas, Calif.

Providence also owns a stake in Spanish-language network Univision Communications and Freedom Communications Holdings, which complicates the transaction. Their piece of that action in those deals violates the newspaper-broadcast station cross-ownership rule in five markets. Providence has said it will sell properties in those markets but has yet to do so, blaming "volatile conditions" in the credit markets.

The FCC refused Providence's request for a similar extension in Albany, N.Y., because it had failed to come into compliance with conditions attached to the Univision deal. The agency is requiring Providence to make good on its promises in that market before it allows the sale of the local television station to go through.

The FCC said the waivers were necessary when it looked at the deal against the larger backdrop. The entire company plans to go private, and Clear Channel will sell a number of radio stations. When Clear Channel announced the $19.5 billion buyout in November 2006, it said it would sell 448 of its 1,150 radio stations, all located in smaller markets, in deals separate from the larger transaction.

Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps, an outspoken opponent of the consolidation of ownership in the media, on Friday filed the lone dissent to the transaction.

"No one should be under any illusion that Clear Channel's sale of its 35 full-power stations strikes a blow for deconsolidation," he wrote. After the deal closes, Providence will have "attributable interests in a whopping 86 television stations and 99 radio stations in the United States."

Copps said Providence's interests span the media landscape with stakes in MGM Studios, the Hallmark Channel and Warner Music Group.

He urged the FCC to take seriously the trend that has seen more media companies enter private hands and asked whether the commission has enough information about the ownership and control of such groups to determine whether such transactions are in the public interest.

The FCC is expected to act on a number of media deals and regulations this month; it's also expected to approve a deal to take the Tribune Co. private and to make a decision on the XM-Sirius satellite radio deal. In addition, the commission is expected to ease the ban on newspaper-TV station deals in one market.
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