You may have seen this story yesterday and not realized how truly impactful it will be. Sinclair Broadcast Group is already the largest operator of local television stations in the US, with 173 local stations. It’s agreed to buy Tribune Media for about $3.9 billion. Now, if you’re in Los Angeles, Seattle or several other large cities you probably know Sinclair or Tribune. When the deal is done, the new company will have 233 stations and already there is a deal on the table for Sinclair to snap up another 14 stations.
There are several reasons you should care about this. Foremost for some people is the fact that Sinclair and the Trump campaign came to a deal which increased exposure for the then-presidential candidate in many areas he then won. There has been no concrete accusation made saying Sinclair did anything wrong, but the matter is certainly coming up again given that the FCC, which must approve the merger, is part of the executive branch. This is sure to raise suspicions of “tit-for-tat” treatment.
Less politically motivated, both DIRECTV and DISH have had either blackouts or near-blackouts with Sinclair stations every time the contracts came due. The relationship between pay-TV companies and Sinclair is definitely not going to get better once there are even more stations on the table. This could mean higher bills for most pay-TV subscribers and no one wants that.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there are some BIG stations on the table here. WGN Chicago, KTLA Los Angeles and WPIX New York are all part of the deal, as are stations in Denver, San Diego, Miami, St. Louis, and Kansas City. There are millions and millions of people who will be affected in one way or another by this deal.
One positive possibility here is that Sinclair could take Tribune’s two biggest subchannel stations, Antenna TV and THIS TV, and bring them to national syndication, either through streaming or traditional pay TV. As stations gear up for their upcoming “repack” where nearly 1,000 stations will change transmitters, the fate of these smaller stations is in doubt. Moving them to either pay TV or streaming could be a big win for people who like TV “the way it used to be.”
Overall though I’m not sure this is the best move, although it’s probably the only move. Independently owned TV stations are coming under increasing financial pressure from pay-TV companies, competition from streaming services, and it is becoming increasingly expensive to operate a modern TV facility. It simply may be impossible for a small company to own and operate a TV station. Still, you’re talking about one company owning almost 14% of all the TV stations in the US (according to this site, there are 1,780 commercial broadcast channels.) Even more important they own significant holdings in smaller cities where they control a much larger share of the market. It’s a little concerning because of the trend out there.
All I can say is there used to be about 30 airlines and air travel was better. Now there are really 4 US airlines and one of them is about to get rid of even more legroom. Sometimes reduced competition isn’t a good thing. Sometimes when one company gets too big, it’s not good for the people who rely on it. Is this one of those cases? I don’t know. I do know that the deal, while it will be scrutinized, is likely to pass FCC review so one blogger is not going to stop it. All I can do is hope that I can still watch TV when I want to.