Sinclair Rejiggers Tribune Deal, Impacts Local TV Ad Future

Has Sinclair Broadcast Group given up the hunt to become a true national TV service -- based on local TV stations? Or at least one that drives more local TV advertising their way?

Looking to get FCC regulatory approval, Sinclair has amended -- somewhat drastically -- its merger plan filings with the federal regulatory agency to buy Tribune Media.  

A major alteration: It will now sell off Tribune Media’s two major market stations that originally came as part of its $3.9 billion deal to buy the TV station group: WPIX New York and WGN Chicago.

Sinclair also says it will sell Tribune’s KSWB San Diego outlet and one or more TV stations in Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma, Grand Rapids, Richmond and Des Moines.

Sinclair may have been anticipating relaxed federal rules for TV station ownership.

For many, a proposed mega-TV station deal between Sinclair-Tribune could have meant overall coverage -- via all its stations -- of more than 72% of U.S. TV homes. Currently, there are federal limits on ownership of TV stations; it collectively cannot represent more than 39% of U.S. TV homes.



Initially, acquiring Tribune was believed to give Sinclair a dominant position in local TV advertising -- especially in having ownership in two of the top three U.S. TV markets.

Still, while having control of 70% of U.S. TV coverage is a powerful asset, it isn’t the only factor that local TV and other advertisers want. When it comes to future programmatic and addressable TV advertising buys, standards across all TV groups need to be set, according to media-buying executives.

In 2017, Sinclair tried to further this process along, proposing a local TV ad programmatic co-op for other major TV station groups to join.

For many media agencies, it isn’t enough to have two or three TV stations with programmatic/automated ad sales platforms in a specific eight-station market. Media agencies need to have the bulk of a market -- for example, at least six or seven TV stations with similar ad automated platforms -- to be effective. That status makes it more efficient for them to make deals.

There is also hope that the new ATSC 3.0 TV standard could move this along.

Good news: All this isn’t dependent on big TV station mergers. Still, the current number of differentiated programmatic local TV ad systems isn’t making things easier. Local TV marketplaces need to gravitate to more open -- or at least more “standardized” -- efforts.

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