Closely held Ion would contribute its more than 60 independent stations to the joint venture, while Fox would throw in its 28 local stations, which include big markets such as New York and Los Angeles. As part of the deal, Fox would consider switching its affiliation to Ion from Sinclair for 26 stations that are up for renewal this year, said the person, who asked not to be identified.
Fox may also seek to switch 14 stations owned by Tribune Media Co., which is being acquired by Sinclair, upon the change of control, the person said. Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after normal business hours, while Chicago-based Tribune declined to comment.
Ion, which emerged from bankruptcy in late 2009, doesn’t currently have affiliation deals, instead relying on syndicated reruns and some original shows to fill its programming grid.
Fox, controlled by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, has been concerned about Sinclair’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune, which is awaiting regulatory approval. The combined company, with 233 stations, will have even greater negotiating leverage on how to split fees paid by cable providers. Sinclair has also been creating more of its own programming, including conservative commentary, that competes with Fox’s own shows.