Contrary to published reports, News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group says it doesn't have a deal to sell four TV stations to a New York-based minority group.
What it does have, a company insider confirms, is an offer from the group, led by Luther Gatling, who is head of the Budget & Credit Counseling Services, a New York based non-profit organization. The stations that the Gatling-led group has proposed buying include: WDAF-TV Kansas City; WBRC-TV Birmingham, Ala., WHBQ-TV Memphis and WGHP-TV Greensboro, N.C. The stations cover about 2.7% of U.S. households.
The Fox group is currently the largest in the country, covering 40.74% of U.S. homes, according the FCC definition of coverage, which discounts UHF stations by 50%. That coverage figure includes the pending acquisition of the Chris-Craft station group.
If Fox does do a deal with the Gatling-led group, it would reduce by about half -2.7% - the coverage that Fox needs to shed to be in compliance with the current 35% ownership cap. (Separately, all the major networks are pushing for a repeal of that cap. And a D.C. court has stayed the FCC's order forcing Viacom to comply with the cap, pending resolution of its law suit to get the cap thrown out.)
The sale of four VHF stations to a minority group would almost certainly be looked favorably upon by the commission as it considers Fox's application to acquire Chris-Craft. But a Fox insider insists that the offer from the Gatling group is just that and only that. "It's in the very early stages," said a source. "They've made an offer and we said, O.K., here are the books, do your due diligence and then we'll talk. It's not near the negotiation stage yet."
- Steve McClellan