|Fate||Acquired by Sinclair|
|Successor||Sinclair Broadcast Group|
|Founded||Washington, DC (1975 )|
|Founder||Joe L. Allbritton|
|Defunct||August 1, 2014|
|Robert L. Allbritton (CEO)|
The Allbritton Communications Company was an American media company. Based in Arlington, Virginia, Allbritton was the leading subsidiary of Perpetual Corporation, a private holding company owned by the family of company founder and former Riggs Bank president Joe L. Allbritton. Joe's son, Robert L. Allbritton, was the Chairman and CEO of Allbritton Communications from 2001 to 2014. He is currently the owner of Capitol News Company, the parent company of political newspaper and website Politico.
Allbritton was the last remaining TV station group to have all of its stations be affiliated with ABC (other than its O&Os) and the last remaining TV station group to have all its stations have an exclusive affiliation deal with one network, rather than having affiliates aligned with any of the all six major broadcast networks.
Allbritton was previously a major owner of broadcast television stations; it owned a chain of eight television stations affiliated with ABC, anchored by its Washington, DC flagship WJLA-TV, and NewsChannel 8, a regional cable television network serving the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In May 2013, the company put all of its stations for sale, citing a desire to focus exclusively on Politico; they were ultimately sold to the Sinclair Broadcast Group for $985 million. The sale was approved by the FCC on July 24, 2014, following a year-long delay to address improper duopolies in certain markets that would result from the purchase.
The company was formed in 1975 when Joe Allbritton bought controlling interest The Washington Star Company, including its television and radio stations-WMAL-AM-FM-TV in Washington; WLVA-AM-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia; and WCIV in Charleston, South Carolina. The Federal Communications Commission required him to sell off either the newspaper or the broadcast properties in Washington as a condition of the purchase. By this time, the FCC had tightened its rules on cross-media ownership, and had all but banned one person from owning newspapers and broadcast properties in the same market while grandfathering existing combinations. However, due to the way Allbritton's takeover of the Star was structured, the FCC considered it an ownership change and stripped the WMAL stations of their grandfathered protection. Allbritton opted to sell the Star Company's non-television assets. Both WMAL-TV and WLVA-TV changed their call letters to WJLA-TV and WSET-TV, respectively in 1977, due to FCC rules at the time that prohibited TV and radio stations in the same market, but with different ownership from sharing the same call letters.
In May 2013, reports surfaced that Allbritton was planning to sell its television stations; the move came as a result of the increasing success of Politico, which "continues to carry no debt, funds all investment with operating income and will still turn a profit, again, in 2013." On July 29, 2013, the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire all of Allbritton's stations for $985 million. In particular, Sinclair eyed the potential use of WJLA's NewsChannel 8 as a base to launch a national cable news channel.
The planned acquisition was hit with a number of pitfalls due to conflicts between already Sinclair-owned or controlled stations in Allbritton's markets, and the FCC's recent actions involving local marketing agreements (LMAs) and joint sales agreements. Sinclair would have sold its existing stations in several Allbritton markets--WABM and WTTO in Birmingham, Alabama and WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Deerfield Media, and WMMP in Charleston, South Carolina to Howard Stirk Holdings, a company owned by conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams. The stations would have remained operated by Sinclair under a local marketing agreement. In December 2013, FCC Video Division Chief Barbara Kreisman sent a letter demanding information from Sinclair Broadcast Group on the financial aspects of its "sidecar" operations, and warned that in these three markets, "the proposed transactions would result in the elimination of the grandfathered status of certain local marketing agreements and thus cause the transactions to violate our local TV ownership rules." It was asserted that the deal might be legal only if the affected stations were operated under shared services agreements.
Sinclair restructured the deal in March 2014, choosing to sell its existing stations in Harrisburg (WHP-TV), Charleston (WMMP) and Birmingham (WABM) and terminate an SSA with the Cunningham-owned Fox affiliate in Charleston to acquire Allbritton's WCIV, WHTM-TV, and WBMA-LD, while also creating a new duopoly between the ABC and CW affiliates in Birmingham), as well as foregoing any operational or financial agreements with the buyers of the stations being sold to other parties. However, in May 2014, Sinclair disclosed in an FCC filling that it was unable to find buyers for the three affected stations, requiring changes to its transaction. In Harrisburg, Sinclair chose to retain WHP-TV, and instead sell WHTM to Media General. However, in Charleston and Birmingham, the company proposed to shut down stations entirely so it could maintain legal duopolies; surrendering the licenses for WCIV and the full-powered repeaters of WBMA-LD (WJSU and WCFT), and moving their ABC programming to Sinclair's existing stations WMMP and WABM respectively--which would planned shift their existing MyNetworkTV programming to digital subchannels, these station would since move ABC affiliation to digital subchannel. After nearly a year of delays, Sinclair's deal to acquire Allbritton was approved by the FCC on July 24, 2014. Sinclair completed the sale on August 1.
Allbritton launched Washington-area local news web site TBD in 2010. The site merged the web pages of the company's television stations, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and its cable sibling, NewsChannel 8. Jim Brady, a former Washington Post editor, ran the site. Allbritton shut down TBD in 2012.