With Monday’s acquisition of Tribune Media by Sinclair, it is time to divvy up the winners and losers in this historic deal.
Winner: Sinclair Broadcasting (of course.) No one thought Sinclair would ever crack the top five markets, including New York and Los Angeles. Let’s just say Christmas morning came for the once-obscure broadcaster May 8. And look for Sinclair to reap even more political TV money thanks to heated 2018 congressional and governor’s races – especially here in Illinois where ads are already running.
Loser: Media consolidation foes. Yes, people like yours truly who complained for years about the concentration of media in too few hands, a phenomenon we’ve seen in radio over the last twenty years – you’d think companies would learn from their mistakes. And yet, here we are….
Winner: Over-the-air broadcast television. Prime-time television may be losing viewers, but is fine outside of the daypart as local news continue to be a hot property.
Loser: Cable and satellite providers. With 233 stations covering more than 70 percent of the country, Sinclair has significant leverage with providers who carry the station’s signal. including Comcast, DirecTV, and the like. Sinclair could demand more retrans cash, meaning your cable or satellite bill could go up. Again.
Loser: Fox and the rest of The broadcast networks. And speaking of leverage, Sinclair can negotiate more favorite terms with with the broadcast networks on everything from affiliate pre-emptions to how much retrans money they can take. It’s no wonder Fox tried to stop the deal by trying to acquire Tribune itself – Sinclair would now own 28 percent of all Fox affiliates.
Winner: Republicans. Sinclair’s right-leaning news operations are more friendly to Republicans, and it’s one less outlet Trump and Co. won’t be skewed by. Also helps to “make a deal” with the company for “favorable news coverage” for their “leader”.
Loser: The City of Chicago. With WGN changing hands and the pending closure of Tribune Media, Chicago loses yet another piece of something we’ve called our own. In the last ten years, Chicago has lost Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, several talk shows, and just last week, Johnson Publishing. The Windy City is quickly becoming an afterthought in the media business. At this rate, Chicago would have as many media businesses headquartered here as in Milwaukee or St. Louis. Another black eye for a metro area losing residents and businesses at a rapid pace.
Winner: ATSC 3.0 Technology. The next-gen standard for TV gets a huge boost thanks to Sinclair, who championed the technology for the last two decades. It’ll enable new services to consumers, including Mobile TV.
Winner: Broadcast companies Nexstar, Tegna, Meredith, Scripps, etc. Since their competitors, you’d think they would be aghast. Well, two – or more can play at that game: and thanks to the FCC loosening the ownership rules, more companies will be able to swap and merge and cash out. Sadly, competition is a thing of the past – ask the oil companies.
Loser: WGN Radio listeners. Sinclair has no plans on selling WGN – but you can bet they will change the format (for the worst) of the station over time, which would no doubt fuel even more non-stop talk about WGN Radio.
Loser: Rahm Emanuel and the area’s Democrats. With right-leaning Sinclair taking over WGN, look for the station to take a harder line on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the Democrats in Cook County. In the last few years, they’ve gotten more or less a pass from the local news media not named the Chicago Tribune.
Loser: Underground and other scripted dramas. With Sinclair moving away from original scripted programming, it’s curtains for slavery-era drama Underground for WGN America, which means the channel would return to a dumping ground for syndicated fare and B-level programming – just like it was before…not exactly a smart business strategy. Here’s hoping the critically-acclaimed drama finds a new home.
Of course, the impact of the Sinclair-Tribune merger is too early to tell in several cases. Here are some things to look for as this progresses:
The future of The CW. Sinclair now takes over two of the network’s largest affiliates: WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles. While Sinclair has been friendlier to The CW than Tribune has, it’s a whole new ballgame: The CW needs to improve their ratings – they may have to lose the teen dramas and superhero shows. In fact, Sinclair can start their own network if they wanted to and use WPIX, KTLA, and WGN as a launching pad as soon as 2021.
Sports on WGN. Despite a report stating sports rights on WPIX and WGN would be valuable to Sinclair, keep in mind contracts with the Blackhawks (2018) and the Cubs (2019) are expiring soon. It may be cheaper for Sinclair to put on syndicated rerun junk than live sports, which is airing mostly on regional sports networks (the Cubs are looking to launch such a channel in 2020.) Unfortunately, the perennial poor performance of Chicago’s two other sports teams (the Bulls and White Sox) may not provide the ROI Sinclair would be looking for and would be easier to drop live sports altogether.
Syndicators. With Sinclair owning so many stations, a pickup – or a cancellation – could determine any show’s future. If you want your show on the air, you now have to go through Sinclair – it remains to be seen how much “clout” they’ll have
Small broadcasters (Weigel, McKinnon, etc.) The sale of WGN leaves Weigel Broadcasting – owner of WCIU and MeTV as Chicago’s last locally-owned media company. But for how long? Other small broadcasters – McKinnon’s KUSI in San Diego, Adell’s WADL in Detroit, and Ed Ansin’s Boston and Miami stations, could feel pressure to sell their stations given the heightened merger-and-acquisition fever gripping the industry.
How to cover big cities. A Sinclair news station covering Cincinnati and Salt Lake City is one thing, but covering the ultra-blue TV markets of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago – the three largest in the country – is another. If they go down this road, it would be a recipe for disaster. Even with Fox News a more dominant brand, the Fox O&Os are a more neutral news source in terms of local broadcasts.