Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the nation's largest local TV station operator, wants to be even bigger.
The company announced Monday that it will pay about $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and its 42 stations, which includes KTLA in Los Angeles, WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York. Chicago-based Tribune also owns stakes in the Food Network and job-search website CareerBuilder.
Sinclair has 173 stations, including KENV in Salt Lake City, KOMO in Seattle and WKRC in Cincinnati. The Tribune deal, plus other pending acquisitions, will give it a total of 233 stations, putting distance between it and rival Nexstar Media Group, which has 170.
Sinclair said it may have to sell some stations to comply with Federal Communications Commission rules, although the FCC has recently loosened rules related to media ownership. Sinclair is also in the process of buying Bonten Media Group, which owns 14 stations, for $240 million.
In all, Sinclair said its stations will reach 72 percent of all U.S. households with a TV once the Tribune and Bonten deals close.
Jeffrey McCall, a media studies professor at DePauw University in Indiana, said buying Tribune will give Sinclair more power to negotiate better deals with cable companies and national advertisers. Adding Tribune's stations will also expand Sinclair's reach into major cities that it didn't have a presence in before, such as New York and Chicago.
"It makes them a bigger boy on the block, so to speak," said McCall.
Public interest groups, however, opposed the deal. Public Knowledge, which is typically against media consolidation, said Monday that the deal will reduce "viewpoint diversity" and contribute to the "homogenization of broadcasting." It asked the Department of Justice and FCC to reject the deal.
Late last year, Sinclair had to defend itself against news reports that it made a deal with Donald Trump's presidential campaign for favorable coverage in its newscasts. In a December statement , Sinclair said that it had no such deal with Trump's team and that it had given both him and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton "the same opportunities to be interviewed by our local anchors on a regular basis."
On Monday, Sinclair said it will pay about $43.50 in cash and stock for each share of Tribune, an 8 percent premium from Tribune's closing price of $40.29 on Friday. The Hunt Valley, Maryland-based company values the total transaction at $6.6 billion, when debt is included.
The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.
Shares of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. fell 85 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $36.10 in afternoon trading Monday. Shares of Tribune Media Co. rose $2.07, or 5.2 percent, to $42.36.