Sinclair, Tribune TV stations combined: Why it’s not a done deal yet

Let’s start by updating my latest post on television. Last Thursday, in discussing Fox Sports paying a fortune for Thursday Night Football, I brought up Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – trying to buy Tribune Broadcasting, another biggie.

Sinclair had given hints on what it would divest in order to get approval from the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. You’ll find that here.

Also, I mentioned the FCC’s internal watchdog is looking at whether its chairman, Ajit Pai, pushed too hard for the blockbuster $3.9 billion deal by having his agency let television broadcasters own a lot more stations than they were allowed. That happened mere weeks before the deal was announced.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

Those against the deal question the timing of the rule changes, and also Pai’s meetings with Sinclair representatives.

Bloomberg reported an FCC spokesman called the accusation against Pai “absurd.”

It used to be a company’s stations couldn’t reach more than 39 percent of the country but the change is, the FCC restored the old rule that lets companies “discount” the reach of their UHF stations in the formula, because those stations were weaker, pre-cable and satellite.

Sinclair’s stations reached 38 percent of the country before the Tribune deal – just short of 39 percent — but with the UHF stations, the combined company would legally reach 72 percent!

Tribune has 42 stations, and Sinclair either owns or operates 193. That’s noteworthy because some stations will still have to be spun off to comply with even the relaxed rules.

So who plans to buy the stations Sinclair would divest if the deal goes through?

Fox TV stations21st Century Fox, since Disney/ABC plans to buy most of its assets, leaving the so-called “New Fox” with just the Fox network; 28 TV stations in 17 markets, covering more than 37 percent of homes, but the Fox Television Stations Group’s website STILL doesn’t list them, as I’ve written time and time again; the Fox News Channel; the Fox Business Network; and a whole lot of cash in exchange for everything else including its studio.

Besides, Sinclair owns more Fox affiliates than anyone else, giving it power, and owns more Fox affiliates than stations of any other network. In fact, Variety reports that after the deal, Sinclair will have more Fox affiliates than even 21st Century Fox itself owns!

And Sinclair is proposing it be allowed to keep multiple stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis, and Greensboro, N.C. — even though FCC rules say a company can’t own two of the top four stations in a local market. Three people familiar with the negotiations have said the two sides are expected to come to an agreement eventually.

map Harrisburg Indy Greensboro

The question is: Will the merger bolster local news coverage and be a stronger competitor to internet giants like Facebook and Google — or harm competition?

Broadcasting & Cable magazine quotes Business in the Public Interest chairman and CEO Adonis Hoffman, a former top FCC staffer, as saying,

“When any number of companies outside the broadcast sector can reach the entire country with the same programming, the national cap becomes a fiction that limits, and applies only to, broadcasters.”

I say those other companies — cable, satellite and the internet — don’t use our public airwaves and broadcasters do, so the rules should be different.

NFL Logo

Last Thursday, I also wrote about Fox trying to buy stations in cities with NFL teams. I don’t exactly care for the emphasis Fox has put on that, since teams have been moving. But it already has a wide majority of the NFC, which it mostly carries Sunday afternoons, and the AFC becomes even more important since Fox will be carrying Thursday Night Football.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach without Tribune

So the plan is for Tribune’s WPIX-New York (CW) and WGN Chicago (independent) to be sold, but still operated by Sinclair, which wants its stations to be seen all over the country and is how it has operated around the rules for years.

Really gone will be Tribune’s Fox affiliate KSWB-San Diego.

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Expected to be gone are Tribune’s Fox affiliates in Seattle (KCPQ), Denver (KDVR, which Fox once owned), Salt Lake City (KSTU, which Fox once owned), Sacramento (KTXL) and Cleveland (WJW, which Fox once owned). Let this show Fox owned but sold three of those five stations, which shows a lack of commitment to those communities.

Plus, there’s Tribune’s CW Miami-Fort Lauderdale affiliate (WSFL-Channel 39).

Imagine the Fox network buying Miami’s WSFL. I’m sure Fox affiliate WSVN’s owner Ed Ansin would have something to say about that. He has more experience than anyone in that situation because NBC did it to him twice: in Miami in 1989 and Boston in 2017.

Tomorrow, I’ll have details from history on why he should be worried, even though the status quo since 1989 has been good for both him and Fox.

Here is a hint: I used the phrase “a lack of commitment to those communities” a few paragraphs ago.

By the way, please, if you like what you read, subscribe to this blog site with either your email address or WordPress account, and you’ll get an email whenever I publish.

And one more thing about the FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai. Last Friday, he won the National Rifle Association’s “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” at the Conservative Political Action Conference for successfully pushing to repeal his agency’s net neutrality rules that are popular with the public.

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https://www.instagram.com/p/BeGTtHtHeft/?taken-by=nationalrifleassociation

Just today, The Washington Post reported, “Surveys last year showed that more than 80 percent of Americans, and 75 percent of Republicans, preferred keeping the FCC rules on the books rather than repealing them.”

The Hill reported, “Pai’s award is a handmade Kentucky long gun, which will be housed in the NRA’s museum in Fairfax, Va.”

Those net neutrality rules made internet companies common carriers like your phone or electric company, equal to all. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “What you can see on the internet, along with the quality of your connection, are at risk of falling victim to the profit-seeking whims of powerful telecommunications giants.”

ACLU logo

The Post reports, “There are still “opportunities to challenge the FCC in court and in Congress,” and this afternoon, Ars Technica announced, “The Washington state legislature has approved a net neutrality law that applies to all wired and wireless Internet providers in the state and prohibits blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.”

If worst comes to worst, the fight to keep net neutrality could become a state by state issue — harder than convincing the FCC, but already being discussed in “more than half of US states.”

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Don’t post your content on Facebook if you don’t want readers getting it for free!

Time for the obvious, yet again.

social-media

 

News organizations post their news on Facebook and other social media sites. Those articles, videos, slideshows, etc. also get picked up on search sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing (Microsoft). If they use the correct SEOs (Search Engine Optimization words) and have a little luck (or pay a little money), then they may even make the top of the list — and more of us will click and see what they have to offer.

(Try it. Go to one of those sites and search for something — anything — that has been making news, local or worldwide. See what comes up, and in what order.)

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They want as many people as possible to spend as much time as possible with their product and ads on your screens, so they can charge more for their ads.

Sounds like a great deal for all sides. The content publisher gets more views, and the social media and search sites get depended on more and more for bringing users that excellent content.

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But not all content publishers are the same. (See: Trump, fake news.) Some do a better job, while others have an agenda. Fox News used to say “You Decide” since that judgment is subjective.

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we report you decide back
Not many personalities left on Fox, but the shirt survives!

On Jan. 11, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post he’s changing the way Facebook determines the trustworthiness of new sources who post on his platform. It’s his platform and he can do whatever he wants with it.

Then, on Jan. 19, Zuckerberg announced in another post Facebook willmake sure the news you see, while less overall, is high quality.”

To do that, the company will “prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local. And we’re starting next week with trusted sources” because “there’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today.”

So what’s trusted?

networks

Maybe.

Zuckerberg:

The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division. We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you — the community — and have your feedback determine the ranking.

“We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective.”

 

Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons
Rupert Murdoch (Wikimedia Commons)

So Facebook is adding questions about which news sources users are familiar with and trust most, in its ongoing quality surveys.

That had 86-year-old Rupert Murdoch come up with a brilliant idea, because he thinks his news organizations would rank near the top.

According to the man who plays News Corp‘s executive chairman and also 21st Century Fox‘s executive co-chairman, Facebook should pay publishers that are considered the most legitimate and trusted for publishing on it!

Murdoch on Monday:

“I have no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg is a sincere person, but there is still a serious lack of transparency that should concern publishers and those wary of political bias at these powerful platforms.

“The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services.”

Side Note: Murdoch meant your cable or satellite company has to pay cable stations (pretty much owned by the broadcast networks) but also the local TV stations in your town. That’s causing your cable or satellite bill to keep going up. Cut the cord and get local TV over the public airwaves, and it’ll be free.

And even better than Murdoch talking about political bias, his New York Post (on the News Corp side) reported, “Facebook and Google can regain user trust.”

Like they’re the ones with the credibility problem.

First things first: Conservatives will say they prefer Fox, liberals will do the same for MSNBC, bigots will say they don’t trust LGBT media sources, etc. The quality rankings will just be people’s opinions and nothing professionally determined.

news websites

But the big question is, why do these readers who want Murdoch’s content or anybody else’s have to go through Facebook in the first place?

Wouldn’t the smarter thing be to publish on a site you own and control — and can require paid subscriptions if it’s so popular — rather than letting Mark Zuckerberg be your boss?

That way, you can place the content where you want, for as long as you want, on your own conditions!

And Zuckerberg disagreed with Murdoch that news from himself and other publishers make Facebook better.

“Since there’s more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what’s in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do — help us connect with each other,” he wrote on Jan. 11.

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In other words, the professional news media have been taking over Facebook from us common folk!

So do people go to Facebook for news? The answer, sadly, is yes.

But would they go to Facebook without Mr. Murdoch’s news sources, or anybody else’s for that matter? I think probably, to catch up with friends and explore what other people posted. How any of you have not been shocked to get back in touch with people you haven’t seen or heard from in decades?

According to Zuckerberg, “We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other” and that’s hurting “people’s well-being.”

So Zuckerberg wants to help you see less “relevant content” and help you “have more meaningful social interactions.”

His timetable? “It will take months … The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

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Want to see whether the Murdoch solution (pay me!) would work? I would!

Please, news publishers: Keep your content to yourself and then check whether fewer people are reading your articles and therefore your ads. And Facebook will evaluate whether its audience is dropping.

That’ll be the evidence. That’ll show you whether it’s worth paying Facebook. And the debate will be over.

Zuckerberg ends by admitting doing good doesn’t always mean a better bottom line, at least not right away.

“Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.

“At its best, Facebook has always been about personal connections. By focusing on bringing people closer together — whether it’s with family and friends, or around important moments in the world — we can help make sure that Facebook is time well spent.”

Plus, maybe we’ll see real news sources win out over the fake stuff on your News Feed, and also real life.

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Getting settled at work

Following up on yesterday’s post, my computer is not hooked up. I thought it would be, but the movers kept bringing in more and more boxes, so it may be a little while. No big deal. It’s good to be using the laptop on a desk, rather than the floor or a box. The movers are done, and it’s up to Garry and me to unpack.WCYB & wcyb.com logos

Work has been incredible! It feels so good to be sitting down, looking at rundowns, scripts, and wire copy. Eight years away was too long. Some of you have compared going back to news like riding a bike, or a fish going back to water. Those are good analogies.

My first few days were not very productive. I had to start gathering usernames and passwords (or my predecessor’s) for more than a dozen programming websites. That took a lot of time and is still not complete. I’m going to spend awhile learning how to use them and it’ll be a long time before I can use them without looking at notes. Working without them was like working with my hands tied behind my back. I couldn’t do much. So I spent a lot of time with a checklist, trying to sign on. My only noticeable work, at least as far as the public was concerned, was posting a few things on Facebook to get people to look at the real news page on wcyb.com.

Bonten's Tri-Cities stations, from the signature below my work email
Bonten’s Tri-Cities stations, from the signature below my work email

Finally, on Wednesday, I got lessons on how to post stories on the website, and also to the station’s Facebook and Twitter pages (and the Fox station‘s) at the same time. (I hope you “like” and “follow” them all! The boss and I want to see results: more page hits, likes, shares, etc.) I still have to get into Google+ and CW on Facebook.2015-03-14 lt gov

I also had to start up a new Facebook page to administer the station’s. I’m shocked at how many people, especially locals I don’t know, have found it. And somehow, in the midst of all this, Tennessee‘s lieutenant governor Ron Ramsey found me on Twitter and is now a follower! (Thank you, Your Honor.)

I’m also getting used to spending time at work. I don’t like getting up in the morning, especially when it’s cold (for me, still adjusting). I didn’t have an alarm waking me up for so long. Also, no more watching Days of our Lives or General Hospital, but I’m over them. Really. When I’m at work, I work.

at my desk on my 1st day
at my desk on my 1st day

And an interesting thing about the newsroom: there are no TV sets at our desks! Just a few silent ones around the assignment desk, which is in back of me. They don’t even show the ABC affiliate because they just started news back up a few years ago and their ratings must be so lousy. They do provide everyone two large monitors for the computers. I listen to the live streaming during newscasts.

This station is smaller than what I’ve been used to, and that’s a good thing. Not as many people to meet and have trouble remembering. I’m not good at that. In the beginning of the school year, it took more than a week to learn my students. Then, they changed clothes or the weekend came, and I forgot.

bonten station group
the Bonten station group

As digital manager, I have to be on weekly conference calls with my four Bonten Media counterparts. Turns out, I’m supposed to “host” this Tuesday’s by writing up the agenda. Teaching folks know I was an expert on that but in that field, I already knew what I was doing! Anyway, turns out, the corporate senior VP of digital media was laid off on Friday. That’s a shame. I interviewed with her on the phone from New York. She seemed nice, the others liked her, and I think she was supposed to be in town next month to meet in person. Instead, we’ll have the corporate news person doing Tuesday’s call and news directors will also take part, so I’m off the hook as host, at least for five weeks. (Take that, Willy in Montana!)

The program that puts stories on the website, Internet Broadcasting, keeps logging me off. Posting video is much, much worse. Seems everyone at the station has trouble. I actually succeeded in posting my first video clip before leaving on Friday. The boss likes WordPress better. He used it at his old station. Maybe we can switch. I learned WordPress for this blog and talks with four other stations that use it, mostly Tribune and Media General.

I know a lot of the basics, but getting video will be tough. First, there are no tapes. That was starting to change when I left the business. Now, it’s a matter of going to any edit bay and finding it on a computer system I know nothing about. It seems everybody knows how to edit and use those special computers in the edit bays. I guess the older folks learned on the job, and I will have to also. I can’t imagine the younger people learning to use the equipment in college. Back when I was in school, we used equipment that was obsolete by the time we graduated. At least my friendly colleagues help. They can instantly put still pics and video clips in a file which I can get on my desk computer. Doing that on my own is going to take some time but apparently, video (and the ads that go before) is where it’s at.
2015-03-10 lenny ann curry dateline
selfies with two personalities…
2015-03-10 lenny brian williams nightly news
…no longer on our air (for the moment)

I got a company email address and a cell phone for work calls and texts, but am still waiting for a desk phone. I’ll also be able to work at home (with emailed pictures and video clips) once my real computer is hooked up.

And soon, a little more excitement would help. I don’t remember a breaking story or even one that has been developing locally all week. But I have to get my act together first. Then kick butt.

Starting to write about the local market is bringing today’s post to a close. More on my early experiences in Bristol and the Tri-Cities tomorrow.