Apollo has already approached Nexstar about an acquisition, Reuters reported on July 11. Since that initial approach, Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune Media collapsed after the Federal Communications Commission blocked the deal.
That's led Nexstar, which has an enterprise value of nearly $8 billion, to consider buying instead of selling, according to people familiar with the company's thinking.
Nexstar bought Media General for $4.6 billion in January 2017. The company then bid for Tribune last year before losing to Sinclair, according to a person familiar with the matter. Nexstar acquired two stations in a small deal earlier this month. With Tribune again available, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook, who founded the company in 1996, could add 42 stations rather than allowing a private equity party to be the entity that rolls up stations, said the people. That decision could come down to what type of premium a private equity firm will offer.
"We are a consolidator," Sook said during his Aug. 8 earnings conference call. "We will continue to attempt to grow where it makes sense for our shareholders."
He added, "I think we would only go private if we were paid to do so. And if it were the best decision and to create the most value for our shareholders, then it would be something we would consider."
Sinclair is also more likely to be a buyer than a seller, said the people. Still, private equity firms have expressed interest in buying a stake in Sinclair, if not the whole company, which has about $1 billion in cash on its balance sheet. Sinclair may be forced to look for a cash infusion if it loses a $1 billion lawsuit that Tribune filed alleging breach of contract. (The lawsuit came after the FCC killed the deal, claiming Sinclair purposefully sold divestitures at below-market prices to entities with close ties to CEO Scott Smith in an effort to gain regulatory approval.)
Tribune and the Cox stations are the first assets that will likely sell, two of the people said. 21st Century Fox and Blackstone examined a deal for Tribune last year. Tribune will likely have to restart its sales process, which hasn't happened yet but will likely kick off soon, because valuations on its assets have changed since 2017, one of the people said. Tribune could be bought as one asset or split up into parts, with interested buyers including Fox, Scripps and TEGNA, the person said.
Merger motivations for local TV companies mirror those of larger media companies, such as Fox and Time Warner, who have sold in recent years. Gaining scale helps in negotiations with pay-TV operators, such as Comcast, Charter and AT&T, because channels can't be easily blacked out without losing multiple stations at once. Meanwhile, ratings have declined as digital options, such as Netflix and YouTube, have taken the place of traditional TV. The FCC loosened ownership rules on local media companies last year, paving the way for more consolidation.