(Reuters) – Buyout firm Apollo Global Management LLC (APO.N) has teamed up with regional TV station owner Northwest Broadcasting in its bid to acquire another U.S. TV station owner, Tribune Media Co (TRCO.N), people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Tribune, which has a market value of about $3.5 billion, put itself on the auction block three months ago, after its $3.9 billion sale to peer Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc (SBGI.O) failed to get regulatory clearance.
Apollo is now competing against Nexstar Media Group Inc (NXST.O) in the auction for Tribune, the sources said. Final bids were submitted earlier this week, and a deal for the sale of Tribune could come in early December, the sources added.
Sinclair is currently also pursuing its own separate deal, having partnered with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners Ltd to bid for the regional sports networks that Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O) is selling following its deal to merge most of its assets with Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), according to the sources.
Should Nexstar not prevail in buying Tribune, it will turn its sights on buying 14 TV stations that privately held Cox Enterprises Inc has put up for sale, worth more than $2.5 billion, the sources said.
The sources cautioned that no deal is certain and asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Apollo, Tribune, Nexstar, Northwest Broadcasting, Sinclair, Cox and CVC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The broadcast media sector has seen a flurry of merger talks amid expectations that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could relax restrictions on how many stations broadcasters can operate. The FCC has yet to vote on the matter.
Michigan-based Northwest Broadcasting, which is run by CEO Brian Brady, owns more than a dozen TV stations.
Based in Chicago, Tribune Media owns or operates 42 local television stations reaching approximately 50 million households. It also owns national entertainment cable network WGN America, whose reach is more than 77 million households, and a variety of digital applications and websites commanding 54 million monthly unique visitors online, according to its website.
Tribune has filed a lawsuit against Sinclair seeking damages of at least $1 billion for what it called Sinclair’s “misconduct” and “willful breaches” of the merger agreement.
In its counterclaim in the Delaware Court of Chancery, Sinclair rejected Tribune’s allegations and suggested the companies had been very close to winning U.S. Department of Justice approval. The deal was scuttled when the FCC took the unusual step of referring it to an administrative judge for review and questioned Sinclair’s candor over the planned sale of some stations.
The FCC said Sinclair did not “fully disclose facts” relating to the planned sale of three stations, including pre-existing business relationships the company had with prospective buyers.