When, Not If: Cox TV Deal Readied For Blast Off

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WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — Some 50 years ago in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the Apollo program was just five months away from the launch of Apollo 11 — the rocket that placed the first humans on the moon.


It now appears a different kind of Apollo launch is in the works, and involves two TV stations serving the Kennedy Space Center, within the Orlando DMA, and 12 others.

The only thing that awaits is official confirmation from Cox Media Group President Kim Guthrie.

According to a Reuters report distributed late Sunday, Apollo Global Management LLC is close to a final agreement that will see it “acquire” Cox’s 14 over-the-air TV stations.

If correct, changes at the following stations could be seen soon:

  • ATLANTA: WSB-2 (ABC)
  • BOSTON: WFXT-25 (FOX)
  • CHARLOTTE: WSOC-9 (ABC) and WAXN-64 (Unaffiliated)
  • DAYTON: WHIO-7 (CBS)
  • JACKSONVILLE: WJAX-47 (CBS) and WFOX-30 (FOX)
  • MEMPHIS: WHBQ-13 (FOX)
  • ORLANDO: WFTV-9 (ABC) and WRDQ-27 (Unaffiliated)
  • PITTSBURGH: WPXI-11 (NBC)
  • SEATTLE-TACOMA: KIRO-7 (CBS)
  • TULSA: KOKI-23 (FOX)

The deal, according to both Reuters, is valued at $3 billion.

Reuters has been fairly dependable of late on such stories. As such, the Apollo acquisition of privately held Cox could prove Guthrie true that a partnership — even a financial one — is in the cards. Unlike a merger with Nexstar Media Group or Sinclair Broadcast Group, Cox management would likely stay in place.

For Apollo, it would put its hand deeper into the ownership of TV assets — something it has openly expressed interest in for weeks. As RBR+TVBR reported on Dec. 3, 2018, Apollo teamed up with Brian Brady’s Northwest Broadcasting in a now-failed bid to acquire Tribune Broadcasting. This followed rumors that emerged in mid-July 2018 that Apollo was joining P2 Capital Partners in investigating a bid for Nexstar Media Group; P2 has a very small stake in Nexstar, and at the time no one suspected Tribune’s acquisition by Sinclair would be aborted. Now, Nexstar’s spins from its Tribune buy are being eyed by Apollo.

All the while, chatter regarding the future of Cox Media Group’s 14 stations amid rumors the radio stations it owned were also in play grew louder among industry observers, brokers and, in private, top leaders.

RBR+TVBR‘s first report that Cox would be entertaining offers of some sort, depending on the definition offered by Guthrie, came on July 24, 2018.

In mid-March 2018, Guthrie told RBR+TVBR that talk of the company selling off nearly all of its radio stations was unfounded. It turned out that the chatter focused on the wrong media, as Cox confirmed that it “will explore strategic options” for its 14 TV stations, including partnering or merging the stations into a larger company.

What Cox was not doing, Guthrie told RBR+TVBR, is an outright divestment of the properties. “We are looking not to sell our stations, but to pursue a merger or partnership,” she said via e-mail.

That didn’t stop rumor-mongers from suggesting that companies including Graham Media Group, or Gray Television, Meredith Corp., Hubbard Broadcasting or even Hearst Television could be in the mix.

What remains unclear is the future of WJAX-47. RBR+TVBR exclusively reported in late February 2018 that this facility was being spun to Vero Beach, Fla.-based Bill Hoffman, the former CMG President. Hoffman is buying the station outright for $12.17 million; Cox is retaining its shared services agreement, enabling it to effectively control WJAX-47.

While Reuters’ sources noted that a last-minute deal dissolution could still happen, as no final signatures to the agreement are set as of yet, both Reuters and CNBC hint that a deal announcement could be just days away.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. We don’t know what Cox stations would look like under Apollo ownership until it’s a done deal. If Cox stations were to have went to previously mentioned station groups, like Scripps, Hearst, or TEGNA, you’d see stations having to be divested in markets with overlapping conflicts. Scripps-Cox has 1 conflict (Tulsa). Hearst-Cox has 3 conflicts (Boston, Orlando, and Pittsburgh). TEGNA-Cox has 4 conflicts (Atlanta, Seattle, Charlotte, and Jacksonville). As an Atlanta TV viewer, I could live with either Scripps or Hearst acquiring WSB and WHIO, and any of the other legacy Cox stations. Hearst runs its stations in similar fashion to how Cox runs its stations, maintaining emphasis on journalistic and broadcast excellence. Scripps seems to be a decent broadcast group, although not the absolute best. Scripps is actively working on acquiring Cordilleria Communications. Graham is another decently run station group. I can’t imagine TEGNA owning WSB and any other legacy Cox stations. At some point, I could see Apollo wanting Cox radio stations, including WSB and WHIO, and any other legacy Cox radio markets. Cox could focus on being a debt-free publishing company.
    There’s also possibility of Apollo pursuing any Nexstar Media Group stations, including Nexstar-Tribune conflicts. The way I see it, Meredith has its opportunity to acquire Des Moines and/or Quad Cities. I could also see Meredith being interested in some additional stations, along with Graham, Gray, Hearst, Scripps, and TEGNA. I also wouldn’t rule out Fox wanting its long sought after Seattle station, possible returns to Denver (maybe KWGN be included with KDVR), Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, and maybe wanting Indianapolis as well. Nexstar possibly unloading several non-conflict markets if they really want Tribune’s legacy NYC, LA, and Chicago stations.
    With the 2020 election cycle coming up, swing states will be attractive in terms of ad revenue, with Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin being most likely 2020 swing states.

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