Tribune Gets $190 Million from FCC Auction of TV Licenses

This story was updated from Feb. 7 with additional details.

Tribune Media (TRCO) said Wednesday that it will collect $190 million, before taxes, from a landmark government auction that allowed TV station owners to sell licenses for the spectrum that carries their broadcasts to wireless carriers.

A day earlier Gray Television (GTN) said that it will receive $91 million from the auction.

Station owners from CBS (CBS) , Fox (FOXA) , and Cablevision's (CMCSA) NBC to focused broadcast groups such as Sinclair (SBGI) and Nexstar (NXST)  could also report auction proceeds, after the Federal Communications Commission on Monday lifted a quiet period related to a wireless spectrum auction. They can also conduct talks on M&A and other strategic matters.

The government launched a landmark auction in May 2016 that allows TV station owners to sell the spectrum carrying their broadcasts to wireless carriers, dubbed the incentive auction. Since then, station owners and wireless carriers participating in the auction have been barred from strategic talks that could lead to collusion on bids.

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The last stage for broadcasters ended in January, and the FCC lifted a restriction on talks between TV station owners.

Bidding among wireless carriers AT&T (T) , Verizon (VZ) , T-Mobile USA (TMUS) and others continues. Comcast, which is launching a mobile partnership with Verizon this year, qualified to bid on wireless spectrum, as did Dish Network (DISH) . Cumulative bids for the spectrum are approaching $20 billion.

The auction gave station owners three options. They could could shut down a station and sell its license, share spectrum with another station or move to a different frequency.

All together, the broadcasters are due more than $10 billion for the spectrum they are relinquishing.

Tribune did a little better than Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker expected, though Gray is receiving less of a payout than she forecast. Ryvicker had targeted $168 million for Tribune and $135 million for Gray, based on the mid-point of her projected high and low returns.

Large groups like CBS, Fox and NBC can potentially receive the biggest payouts if they chose to sell, Ryvicker suggested in a Tuesday note. The analyst put the mid-range returns for Fox at $2.2 billion, for CBS at $2.1 billion and for NBC at $1.7 billion.

Among the groups devoted to broadcast TV, Ryvicker suggested that Sinclair $621 million. Nexstar and Media General, which merged in January, have estimated payouts of $312 million and $295 milllion. (Nexstar and Media General agreed to merge before the auction and the quiet period started.)

The estimates refer to the midpoints of Ryvicker's projections for the high and low end of returns.

Gray expects to collect its funds in the second or third quarter, while Tribune expects to receive the proceeds in the second half of the year.

Overall, the auction has generated less interest from wireless carriers than many analysts expected. While there may be more positive surprises like Tribune, investors may see more companies like Gray announce auction returns below earlier forecasts.

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