Per the report, which cites two sources familiar with negotiations, Fox and Blackstone would form a joint venture to acquire the conglomerate. According the Times, Blackstone would provide funding for the venture, with Fox contributing its own portfolio of stations.
The news comes after reports emerged earlier this month that Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has made no secret of its desire to acquire more stations, was interested in buying Tribune. It’s part of another wave of broadcast TV station mergers expected now that the FCC is on a course to loosen ownership restrictions.
James Murdoch, CEO of 21st Century Fox, previously told investors that his company was unlikely to embark on a big acquisition, even if the FCC cap on the number of stations a company can own was relaxed in the Trump administration. Meanwhile, a Bloomberg report last month said that Fox was looking to thwart Sinclair’s potential takeover of Tribune Media. The Blackstone arrangement would allow Fox to expand its station holdings without much cash outlay.
The bid would mark an offensive move from Fox, as Sinclair is already a large owner of Fox affiliates. If the Sinclair were to acquire Tribune, it would give the company control over 28% of Fox affiliates, according to Bloomberg. That would give Sinclair significant leverage in negotiations with the network over reverse compensation terms.
Tribune Media includes such assets as WGN America and Tribune Broadcasting, which owns or operates 42 local TV stations. Word of the interest in a Tribune transaction comes as Fox is already shepherding a $15 billion takeover of pay-TV broadcaster Sky, though the report from British regulators on the bid has been postponed until after the upcoming U.K. general election.
A rep for 21st Century Fox declined to comment on the Times’ report.