Are we living in an era of too much consolidation? In terms of the local television news industry, I say yes. Unfortunately, it could get worse because of one potential deal and here’s why.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is home to the second-largest owner of local television stations in the country (behind Nexstar Media Group) with 154 and 11 more planning to be added after Sinclair’s purchase of Bonten Media Group is pending FCC approval. Not to mention, it also owns a 24-hour local news channel in Washington, D.C., NewsChannel 8 which is the sister station to WJLA-TV 7 (ABC) in the same market. It also owns the Tennis Channel, an ad-hoc sports network American Sports Network and three digital multicast networks, Comet, which focuses on science fiction; Charge!, which focuses on action and TBD, which focuses on short clips and internet content. Most of their local stations carry all three networks. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that it produces, distributes and airs a Sunday public affairs news show, Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson, the former CBS News correspondent and University of Florida alum. (in which yours truly is going to UF to start in the Fall) in which it also airs on most Sinclair stations on Sunday mornings.
However, the big focus of this story is the potential nightmare between Sinclair and Tribune Media. Tribune has been trying to sell its TV stations for quite a while and with recent news of the FCC reinstating the UHF discount rule, in which UHF stations (14–69) no longer count on the FCC’s national cap, currently at 39%, Sinclair is looking at this as the perfect opportunity to buy Tribune’s stations to further grow its ownership group. Not only that, but also gain another cable news channel, Chicagoland Television (CLTV) and another radio station, AM 720 WGN in Chicago. But this would be devastating for several reasons:
- Sinclair has been recently known as a company that likes to promote Trump/Republican propaganda. David Smith is the top boss at the company and is Executive Chairman, who has run Sinclair since 1988. He favors the Republican party with Republican values and Sinclair was under huge fire for striking a deal with the Trump campaign during the 2016 Elections for better access and coverage to the then-Presidental candidate. So there’s incredible amount of bias in news reporting across Sinclair’s stations in terms of politics and a lack of fair reporting covering both sides if it will only favor one side and not the other. And if you favor the Democratic party and work for SBG, you could get fired. Proof from FTVLive of a producer getting fired from WWMT 3 (CBS on 3.1/CW on 3.2), one of the stations Sinclair owns in Kalamazoo, Mich. after leaning more towards the left and not the right: https://www.ftvlive.com/sqsp-test/2017/2/13/sinclair-fires-ep-for-liberal-post
- WPIX, KTLA and WGN. These are considered the most legendary stations in Tribune’s portfolio. WPIX 11 in New York City has been owned and operated by Tribune since Day 1 — June 15th, 1948 and airs sports telecasts of the Mets and Yankees at times, produced by SportsNet New York-SNY. KTLA 5 in Los Angeles is considered one of the market’s most legendary stations, having been the first station to sign on west of the Mississippi (January 3rd, 1947), owned by Tribune since May of 1985 and its news operation is one of the most respected and honored in the country. WGN-TV 9 in Chicago is the FLAGSHIP station of Tribune, also owned by Tribune since Day 1-April 5th, 1948 and where Chicago is home to Tribune’s operations as well as 720 WGN Radio (News/Talk), CLTV, WGN America, the national basic cable channel and the Chicago Tribune, all based in Chicago. Oh and its the only television station in the country with its own sports department (WGN Sports) in which it produces and airs live games of the Chicago Cubs (the longest-lasting relationship of all sports teams with WGN), Chicago White Sox (both MLB), Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) and Chicago Fire (MLS). If you put these three stations under ownership with Sinclair, local news coverage and the quality of the stations will severely diminish and would unlikely recover into the way these stations are broadcast today. It would be hard for these stations to be respected and even watchable into Sinclair’s biased coverage and Republican values.
- Let me add a bonus station into that mix… WJW 8 (FOX) in Cleveland. On air since December 19th, 1949 and was ABC until 1955 and then CBS until 1994 and was owned by FOX until 2008, then owned by Local TV until 2013 and by Tribune since then. WJW has become one of the most respectable news stations in Cleveland and in Tribune’s portfolio as they constantly continue to win newscasts across the board thanks to recent changes at the market’s rivals at WKYC 3 (NBC; TEGNA), WEWS 5 (ABC; Scripps) and WOIO 19 (CBS; Raycom Media) that have made them struggle more in the ratings recently as well as Tribune’s investment into WJW. It has been respectable and watchable in the market for years and now with a threat of possibly being owned by Sinclair, it would drive ratings away and favor one side in political reporting over another.
- More consolidation in a battle between Sinclair and Nexstar. These two station groups are trying to own as much as they can to create less competition and more monopolization. And trust me, they won’t stop until one owns 100% of America’s TV households. It would be severely horrible for local TV, TV news junkies and those within the broadcasting industry who are looking to escape Sinclair’s Republican-favored and Trump propaganda coverage.
From what I’ve been told, May 8th is the potential deadline for Tribune and Sinclair to create an agreement for both companies to merge. There are potential conflicts that need to be talked about if this goes through:
- WJLA 7 (ABC; Sinclair) and WDCW 50 (CW; Tribune) in Washington, D.C. (even though this one may go through since WDCW is not in the Top 4 ratings)
- WWMT 3 (CBS/CW; Sinclair) and WXMI 17 (FOX; Tribune) in Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek
- KTVI 2/KPLR 11 (FOX/CW; Tribune) and KDNL 30 (ABC; Sinclair) in St. Louis
- WGHP 8 (FOX; Tribune) and WXLV 45/WMYV 48 (ABC/MyTV; Sinclair) in Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point
- KFOR 4/KAUT 43 (NBC/Ind; Tribune) and KOKH 25/KOCB 34 (FOX/CW; Sinclair) in Oklahoma City
- KATU 2 (ABC; Sinclair) and KRCW 32 (CW; Tribune) in Portland/Vancouver/Salem (even though this one may also go through since KRCW is not in the Top 4 ratings either)
- WNEP 16 (ABC; Tribune) and WOLF 56 (FOX; Sinclair) in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
- WHP 21 (CBS/MyTV/CW; Sinclair) and WPMT 43 (FOX; Tribune) in Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York
- KUTV 2 (CBS/MyTV; Sinclair)/KJZZ 14 (Ind; Sinclair) and KSTU 13 (FOX; Tribune) in Salt Lake City
- WTVR 6 (CBS; Tribune) and WRLH 35 (FOX; Sinclair) in Richmond/Petersburg
- The biggest one: KOMO 4 (ABC; Sinclair) and KCPQ 13 (FOX; Tribune)/KZJO 22 (MyTV; Tribune) in Seattle/Tacoma/Everett
So for those who thought the Nexstar-Media General was bad, this potential merger could be the worst M&A (Merger and Acquisition) in the history of the local broadcasting industry. Unfortunately, changes in FCC rules such as reinstating the UHF discount and potentially raising the national cap past 39% is letting the merger to possibly happen. So say goodbye to local television as we know it. It will forever be ruined, thanks to Sinclair and its crazy ways to possibly become the “Voice” of America’s local TV news by owning every station as it can, something that we, as Americans, don’t want. Americans want competition and different kinds of local coverage, but Sinclair’s possible merger with Tribune would set off a domino effect that would hurt ratings and the economy in so many bad ways.
Even though nothing official and no deal has been made for a potential merger, as a TV news junkie, I hope that it does not go through, the same way the Comcast and Time Warner Cable potential merger was thwarted. Only time can tell and that’s what makes me frightened.