February 10, 2019 / 11:18 PM / 2 months ago

EXCLUSIVE-Apollo nears $3 billion deal to buy Cox TV stations -sources

NEW YORK, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Apollo Global Management LLC is nearing a roughly $3 billion agreement to acquire Cox’s TV stations, the biggest in a series of deals the private equity firm is lining up to become a force in U.S. broadcasting, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Cox Media Group 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 to have 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 stations 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, a privately held family company based in Atlanta, said last July it was exploring options for its 14-station portfolio. The stations were in markets such as Orlando, Florida, Atlanta, Seattle and Jacksonville, Florida.

The broadcast media sector has seen a flurry of merger talks amid expectations that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission could relax restrictions on how many stations broadcasters can operate. The FCC has yet to vote on the matter.

Private equity firms find broadcast TV stations appealing because of the cash-rich fees the stations generate from being carried by cable operators. Apollo would seek to use some of Northwest Broadcasting’s contracts, which have higher fees than Cox’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 TV stations, 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; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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