Sinclair/Tribune Future: Less Local TV News, More Ad Clout

Sinclair Broadcast Group has no intention of starting a competing conservative-minded cable news networks like the Fox News Channel, according to recent reports.

But the TV station group is anything but conservative when it comes to expanding its business concerns -- ad-wise and tech-wise.

Even before its intended merger with Tribune Media, Sinclair has been trying to usurp the much maligned paper-based local TV ad business — long-derided by big media agency executives.

Last year, it attempted to create a programmatic-technology-based TV station advertising co-op where it, Tribune and other major TV station groups would have an equity stake, but no day-to-day operating control. That is on hold -- now that Sinclair is trying to get the Tribune Media deal done.

And there are other issues.

Recently, the new TV station technology standard, ATSC 3.0, has been backed by Sinclair and other station groups. The technology could open up other lucrative business for local TV stations, including advanced targeted “addressable” advertising.



Even without the more near-term advertising co-op, TV buying executives say having two big TV station groups working together -- Tribune and Sinclair -- can give national spot TV advertisers enough U.S. coverage to make large programmatic TV station deals.

Depending on where the regulatory issues -- and stations' divestitures -- shake out, the two station groups, as one entity, could have U.S. home penetration coverage of more than 70%.

For Sinclair, it could mean "a broadcaster with as close to a national footprint as you can get," Tuna Amobi, media analyst for CFRA Research, told USA Today.

As for the rumored Sinclair cable news network, it's not happening. Chris Ripley, president/CEO of Sinclair, told Variety: “Our strength is local news. The market for national cable news is very well served.”

We take Ripley at his word. But there are concerns for local news programming.

As “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” pointed out, Sinclair TV stations not only have a conservative bent, but an increasingly non-local bent. “Must run” stories come as a directive from on high; these stories air with virtually the exact same read-to-camera leads from all its local on-air anchors/reporters.

Not only are those conservative-based news stories mandatory, but they include a commentary from Boris Epshteyn, new chief political analyst for all Sinclair TV news programs. Epshteyn was a former on-air surrogate for the Trump presidential campaign.

What does that mean? That Sinclair might be eliminating the local differences at its TV station markets. Isn’t that the true strength of the local TV station business?

If we are to believe senior TV station group executives, TV stations' true strength still comes from local TV station viewer loyalty.

If that goes away, what is left?

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