By Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis
(Reuters) - Apollo Global Management LLC is nearing a roughly $3 billion agreement to acquire Cox Enterprises Inc's 14 regional TV stations, the biggest in a series of deals the private equity firm is lining up to become a force in U.S. broadcasting, people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
Cox, a privately held media conglomerate whose holdings span automotive websites, newspapers and cable TV, has been seeking to exit the regional TV sector, which is going through a wave of consolidation. Operators are looking for scale to counter the rise of online streaming and the shift of advertising dollars to the internet.
Cox and Apollo are also discussing some joint venture agreements for Cox's broadcast station in Atlanta, where Cox is headquartered and also has radio stations, the sources said.
There may be other cities where the companies decide tohave joint ventures, the sources added.
An agreement between Apollo and Cox could be announced later this week, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential. As with any negotiations, talks could always fall apart at the last minute, the people cautioned.
Apollo is also a bidder for a portfolio of local TV stations worth about $1 billion that Nexstar Media Group Inc plans to shed following its $4.1 billion takeover of Tribune Media Co, the sources added. That process is expected to wrap up later this year. Should Apollo prevail in that auction, it would combine the assets with the Cox TV stations, the people said.
Apollo also has an agreement to acquire the assets of Northwest Broadcasting, which owns more than a dozen TV stations in mostly rural markets in the Pacific Northwest, and combine them with the Cox assets, the sources said.
Apollo and Cox declined to comment. Northwest Broadcasting and Nexstar could not be reached for comment.
Cox said last July it was exploring options for its 14-station portfolio. The stations are in nine states, includingFlorida and Georgia, and reach more than 31 million viewers in their markets.
The broadcast media sector has seen a flurry of merger talksamid expectations that the U.S. Federal CommunicationsCommission could relax restrictions on how many stationsbroadcasters can operate.
Private equity firms find broadcast TV stations appealingbecause of the cash-rich fees the stations generate from beingcarried by cable operators. Apollo would seek to use some ofNorthwest Broadcasting's contracts, which have higher fees thanCox's, to hike up fees from the cable operators, some of the sources said.
Apollo would also be able to cut costs at Cox's TVstations, which have been family-controlled for many years.
Apollo tried unsuccessfully last year to acquire both Nexstar and Tribune Media, in separate attempts.
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)