Clear Channel TV sale gets OK

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

The FCC has given Newport Television, a private-equity group controlled by Providence Equity Partners, 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; Monterey-Salinas, Calif.; and Jacksonville, Fla.

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 six-month 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.

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 noted that 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.

Clear Channel is also selling a number of radio stations as part of a $19.5 billion sale of the company to a private equity group led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital Partners. When Clear Channel announced the buyout in November 2006, it said it would sell 448 of its 1,150 radio stations, all located in smaller markets.
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