Could be a liability for some local stations
Bottom Line With Bill may be coming to a station near you.
Reports are surfacing once again regarding Bill O’Reilly heading to Sinclair Broadcasting. According to NBC news’s Claire Atkinson, Sinclair is in talks with the former Fox News host as he could anchor a two-hour block on their stations – including those being acquired from Tribune Broadcasting, owners of WGN-TV and WGN Radio.
A source said Sinclair is considering the two-hour block, starting at either 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. encompassing the prime-access hour, leading into prime-time. Excluding WGN, who runs local news at 6, almost all Sinclair and Tribune stations are affiliates of the five major networks.
As you’ve heard by now, O’Reilly settled sexual harassment lawsuits while at Fox News for $32 million and then had his contract renewed as first reported by the New York Times on October 22, something O’Reilly has denied. O’Reilly was fired by Fox in April over continuing sexual harassment allegations.
Sinclair initially denied they were in talks with O’Reilly nor turning soon-to-be acquired WGN America to a cable news network to compete with Fox News.
The news comes as Sinclair is coming under increased scrutiny for its news operations, which forces stations to run right-wing commentaries featuring Mark Hyman and former Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn. Many groups – on the left and the right have opposed the merger between Sinclair and Tribune. This week, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) became the first local politician to oppose the deal. The FCC reinstated the “UHF discount” this year as a “gift” to Sinclair, who is looking to buy more stations to have more leverage over its business partners, including syndicators, cable and satellite companies (over retransmission consent fees) and the five broadcast networks.
So would Sinclair go through with these plans?
Putting O’Reilly on Sinclair in the prime-access hour would be difficult – for one, most stations have existing contracts to syndicated fare such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition (one of O’Reilly’s former shows), and Entertainment Tonight. On Tribune’s New York and Los Angeles stations, off-network sitcoms such as The Goldbergs (at WPIX) and Two And A Half Men (at KTLA) are present. Downgrading those shows could hurt their national ratings.
Second, O’Reilly’s much-older skew – many are in the 55-plus demo – would be a liability to some Sinclair stations, especially those who are Fox or CW affiliates as he would be leading right into those younger-skewing programs. O’Reilly’s presence would send viewers of those traditionally younger-skewing stations stampeding for the exits, potentially affecting lead-ins for those shows. Already, many young viewers are abandoning live over-the-air network television for other alternatives and this gives them another reason not to tune in.
And while Sinclair would own the show – meaning no license fees (the networks have perfected this to an art form), O’Reilly’s controversial nature – especially after the sexual harassment allegations – would hurt his ability to attract even decent national advertising and could have a ripple effect.
In all, Sinclair’s pursuit of O’Reilly makes no sense and is one of the most inane ideas yours truly has ever heard of…this week. While it is understandable to produce your own programming, it would have to meet the station’s “brand”. Can you imagine Bill O’Reilly in one of those “Dare To Defy” promos for Sinclair CW affiliates WVTV in MIlwaukee or WUCW in Minneapolis? Pushing a right-wing agenda on stations not equipped to do so would be like putting a scoop of ice cream on a grill – you would have a “hot mess” and that’s what this project will be if it goes forward.