It was 20 years ago tonight. Not exactly. It was actually four days off, on Nov. 25, but what really matters is it was the night before Thanksgiving in 1998.
I had been producing the 11pm news at CBS affiliate WFSB-3 in Connecticut. It was my last newscast there, before moving to Philadelphia – and also the last weathercast for the legendary Hilton Kaderli, who retired that night.
In fact, Hilton and I just got off the phone. He and his family are doing great. He mentioned he had just been doing a bit of work in his study, and his wife is working on their Thanksgiving turkey as I publish this!
The reason for both of us leaving the same night was, back then, TV stations depended on Nielsen ratings. That company picked times around four months to measure viewership. Then, starting on a Thursday and ending on a Wednesday – every November, February, May and July – networks and stations would go all out to show you their best programming along with their sexiest, dirtiest, most dangerous and practically anything to get you to watch. No vacations were allowed, so the A-team would be on every newscast, every day and night.
In 1998 – for the first and last time, I believe – Nielsen ended the ratings period on the night before Thanksgiving rather than the week before, postponing or canceling news people’s vacation plans.
Stations still use those times to have their on-air people announce retirements, reveal health issues, and more to get you to watch – even though Nielsen now realizes there are more than four months in a year, and doesn’t ask randomly selected viewers to fill out diaries about what they watch anymore. Old habits are hard to break.
The 11pm news was arguably most important (financially, why else?) because it followed the network’s huge primetime audience, and had 35 minutes to fill commercials, rather than the typical 30 for a half hour. Stations would then sell ads based on the ratings for at least the next few months, while also looking at year-to-year. People’s jobs depended on good ratings.
This was my first job outside of Florida, my first time in New England cold and my first time living away from home (except for college).
Downtown Hartford was basically a dead center of a doughnut, but not the night before Thanksgiving. (Why weren’t we live from outside?) The day before Thanksgiving was still busy with travel. (Yes, we had a live picture.)
Since then, the station moved from there, two towns south to Rocky Hill. (Yes, Weathersfield and Rocky Hill are towns, while Hartford is a city!)
These days, Al Terzi – the dean of Connecticut TV news, who actually spent some time in West Palm Beach – moderates a weekly political show on WTIC-Fox 61. Denise D’Ascenzo is still at it at Channel 3 after 32 years (and will always be my shiksa sister!), but gets to drive home at a decent hour. No more Nightbeat for her! We can all see and hear Joe Tessitore on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
I thank Tom Lowell, Steve Sabato and Deborah Johnson for the opportunity. I followed Tom up from Miami.
Plus, my friend Megan Robinson who followed me up and started producing weekend mornings, before becoming an executive producer in Charlotte. We went to dinner every Sunday night in a different town so we could study the state we covered.
Reporters Dennis House (now anchoring and also blogging, so I get a weekly email to keep up with the area!), Jennifer Watson (in Atlanta), Melissa Francis (Fox Business) and Susan Raff (still there!) found news or followed up on developing stories, sometimes live so late and further away than they would’ve liked to have been.
Assignment editor Andre Hepkins left WFSB and returned as a reporter. Now, he’s a big-time anchor in Baltimore. And Dana Luby kept getting promotion after promotion and recently went from long-time news director of the station to its general manager! Plus, Mike Guerrieri (Vice President of Creative Services at NBC’s Miami station) with the prime-time teases that kept so many viewers up longer than they would’ve liked.
Of course, I’ll never forget the late, great newscast director Jeff Bright. And I’ll never be able to mention everyone whose work went into making the newscast such a success, so please forgive me.
We were a #1 team. I should’ve made more of it. Come to think of it, I think I fought like hell with every one of the people mentioned at least once (except Gayle)! Every one of cared that much and made each other better.
I mentioned I ended up moving to Philadelphia. I stayed six years, returned to Miami for some time before getting back to Philadelphia (for Part B, as this post’s title suggests).
Click here for how The Hartford Courant reported that day.
Now, to the video!
1 of 3: Lots of touches I remember starting, the New England Patriots’ move to Hartford(!), Hilton’s memories, and perhaps a record number of municipalities mentioned in the first tease instead of the typical three
2 of 3: Michael J. Fox reveals he has Parkinson’s and Hilton’s final forecast
3 of 3: Sports, Hilton’s final good-bye and classic clips
(Why didn’t I get an on-air mention after 19-1/2 months?)
Gayle King’s friend Oprah joins Hilton on weather in 1992
And click here to read and watch the most memorable moment in WFSB history (at least involving Hilton)!
If you like what you read here, subscribe with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. Don’t rely on social media with its hacking issues and censoring like this, this and this. I’m also available for writing/web contract work. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennycohen
But the deal announced in May, 2017, still hasn’t happened.
To follow through, it would need government approval: from the Justice Department for antitrust worries and the FCC to approve ownership limits. (And Sinclair may have already gotten “help” from FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was selected by President Trump. Pai is now under investigation by his own agency’s inspector general. Keep reading.)
— UPDATE: The FCC inspector general cleared Chairman Ajit Pai of being unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. —
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)
The $3.9 billion deal would still require a number of stations to be sold. The questions partially responsible for holding things up were how many, and in which cities? About six weeks ago, I explained TV ownership limits are very complicated, with four rules in play: 1. national TV ownership, 2. local TV multiple ownership, 3. the number of independently owned “media voices” – 4. and at least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (that’s the “designated market area” or city, and ranking based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination.
Plus, there have been literally thousands of complaints from activists who know how important this is. Click here to see 4,497 total FCC filings since July 5, 2017, including 891 in the past 30 days. THANK YOU if your name is on the list! Keep reading for directions on how to say no.
Now, click here to see some of the “33 concurrently filed applications on FCC Form 315 that seek the Commission’s consent to a transaction,” back in July, 2017, and what the companies consider “Public interest benefits of the transaction.” You’ll soon know better if you actually believe there are public interest benefits! You’ll also notice the companies fighting for every last station they could, to grow even larger.
“The Smith family, which includes brothers David, Robert, Frederick, J. Duncan and a flurry of family trusts, is worth a combined $1.2 billion, Forbes estimates, based on the family members’ ownership of stock in publicly traded Sinclair Broadcasting, share sales over the past 15 years, dividends and some private assets,” it read.
“Revenues have increased 281% over the last decade to $2.7 billion in 2017, while Sinclair’s share price has increased 367% over the same period, pushing its market capitalization up to a recent $3 billion. All of this growth has occurred under the control and oversight of David Smith, 67, the chairman and former CEO of the company, as well as the son of the company’s founder Julian Sinclair Smith,” it continued.
Forbes quoted Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at Benchmark Capital, as saying, “Sinclair plays some of the hardest ball of anyone,” from acquiring stations to negotiating advertisement pricing and retransmission fees, which are some of the highest in the business.
SIDEBAR: Wednesday, The TV Answer Man Phillip Swann reported PlayStation Vue removed Sinclair-owned local stations affiliated with Big 4 networks from its streaming lineup without an explanation. Just Tuesday, subscribers got an e-mail that live channels would be replaced May 1 (that day) with an On-Demand version.
Sinclair said it pulled the stations and blamed “Sony (for) failing to comply with certain contractual provisions.” It didn’t elaborate but urged Sony subscribers to consider other video distributor options, including Sony competitor YouTube TV.
Sony hasn’t commented.
The Baltimore Sun reports, “Sony describes PlayStation Vue as a live streaming TV service for up to five devices at once that offers sports, news and other programs along with premium channels and a cloud DVR.”
BACK TO THE STORY: Under David Smith, who wouldn’t comment for the article, Sinclair went from three cities – Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Columbus – to what it is today.
“To ‘purely make money’ in a scale-oriented business, David bought up as many broadcast stations as possible. First he concentrated on secondary markets, like Memphis, St. Louis and San Antonio, where operation costs were cheaper than in places like New York or Chicago.
“‘I believed that certain things were going to happen in the television industry, the most important being consolidation,’” David told Forbes in 1996.
So much for public service!
But then came the controversial Cunningham, arguably rigging the system.
“In the 1990s, the company pioneered a technique to circumvent an FCC rule limiting ownership of more than one TV station per metro area. David’s mother, Carolyn Smith, started another business, Cunningham Broadcasting. Following Carolyn’s death in 2012, most of the ownership of Cunningham Broadcasting shifted to a family trust, which is included in the overall Smith family valuation.”
So Cunningham really isn’t independent, as its website claims!
“The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition is raising questions at the FCC about whether Sinclair Broadcasting is exercising control over a minority-headed TV group with which it has struck a series of local marketing agreements (LMAs).
“In a July 1 filing at the FCC, Rainbow/PUSH said it plans to study whether the LMA deal between Sinclair’s KABB(TV) San Antonio and Glencairn’s KRRT(TV) Kerrville, Tex., violates the commission’s prohibition against common ownership of two local stations. (The rules were more strict then.)
“‘Rainbow/PUSH has not had an opportunity to fully research this matter, and thus preserves here the question of whether Glencaim is the alter ego of Sinclair,’ the group told the FCC.”
So we know Cunningham, set to buy Tribune stations in Dallas and Houston, appears to be a shell company, and we can make bets who will operate and control it if the Sinclair-Tribune deal ever comes to fruition.
“Cunningham Broadcasting owns the FCC broadcast licenses and operates through various management agreements with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. WNUV-TV in Baltimore, Maryland; WTTE-TV in Columbus, Ohio; WMYA-TV in Anderson, South Carolina; WRGT-TV in Dayton, Ohio; WVAH-TV in Charleston, West Virginia; WDBB-TV in Bessemer, Alabama; WBSF-TV in Flint, Michigan; WGTU-TV in Traverse City, Michigan; KBVU-TV in Eureka, California; KCVU-TV in Chico-Redding, California; WEMT-TV in Greeneville, Tennessee; WPFO-TV in Portland, Maine; WYDO-TV in Greenville, North Carolina; and KRNV-TV & KENV-TV in Reno, Nevada.”
Looking at its list of stations — something the Fox Television Stations Group never posted on its own website despite me calling them out for it here, here, here, here (so far in no particular order, although I may have missed a couple), and my favorite, here — you may realize Sinclair recently bought Bonten Media Group (Disclosure: I used to be Digital Media Manager at the former Bonten’s WCYB but left before the sale.) but Cunningham bought the stations Bonten operated. Notice those stations listed on the website have no websites of their own. And I’ll get back to Fox later. I’ll bet they can’t wait!
Another dead giveaway is that Cunningham is based at 2000 W. 41st Street, Baltimore MD 21211 and coincidentally, Sinclair flagship WBFF-45 (Fox affiliate) has the same address!
“For years (before 2012), Fox Television Stations’ WUTB Baltimore gave Fox considerable leverage in its sometime contentious affiliation negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“If Sinclair ever got out of line, Fox could threaten to yank its affiliation from Sinclair’s flagship station WBFF Baltimore and move it to WUTB.
“But last May, Fox relinquished that leverage when it extended its affiliation with WBFF and 18 other Sinclair stations for five years starting Jan. 1, 2013, and granted Sinclair an option to buy WUTB.
“Sinclair is now exercising that option by assigning it to a third party, Deerfield LLC.
“According to an FCC filing seeking approval of the deal, Deerfield is buying WUTB and allowing Sinclair to run the MNT affiliate through joint sales and shared services agreements.
“The deal gives Sinclair a virtual triopoly in Baltimore where it also operates CW affiliate WNUV, which is owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, Sinclair’s longtime duopoly partner that is controlled by trusts for the children of Sinclair’s controlling shareholders.”
But Sinclair and Deerfield were already in cahoots.
“to buy six television stations from Newport Television LLC for $412.5 million and agreed to buy Bay Television Inc. for $40 million. … Sinclair also agreed to sell the license assets of its San Antonio station KMYS and its WSTR station in Cincinnati to Deerfield Media Inc. Sinclair will also assign Deerfield the right to buy the license assets of WPMI and WJTC in the Mobile/Pensacola market, after which Sinclair will provide sales and other non-programming services to each of these four stations under shared services and joint sales agreements.”
“Sinclair Broadcast is getting six stations in five markets for $412.5 million:
— Cincinnati (DMA 35) — WKRC (CBS)
— San Antonio, Texas (DMA 36) — WOAI (NBC)
— Harrisburg-Lancaster (DMA 41) — WHP (CBS)
— Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla. (DMA 60) — WPMI (NBC) and WJTC (Ind.)
— Wichita, Kan. (DMA 67) — KSAS (Fox)
“Sinclair is also acquiring Newport’s rights to operate third-party duopoly stations in Harrisburg, Pa. (CW affiliate WLYH), and Wichita, Kan. (MNT affiliate KMTW). Those rights include options to buy the stations. …
“While Sinclair was buying, it was also selling.
“It said it would spin off its CW affiliate in San Antonio (KMYS) and its MNT affiliate in Cincinnati (WSTR) to Deerfield Media Inc., presumably to comply with the FCC ownership limits. In the deal, Deerfield also picks up an option to buy two of the stations it is acquiring from Newport, WPMI-WJTC Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla.
“Sinclair said it intends to ‘provide sales and other non-programming services to each of these four stations pursuant to shared services and joint sales agreements.’
“In yet another deal, Sinclair said it is buying WTTA Tampa-St. Petersburg from Bay Television Inc. for $40 million. Since 1998, Sinclair has operated WTTA pursuant to a local marketing agreement.”
And that was the start of the Deerfield connection!
BACK TO OUR STORY: So for those of you in Baltimore, do you need to reach the newsroom, are you looking for a job (Would they hire me for my investigative work?), or interested in inspecting the FCC public file of any of the three stations? All the information is the same, from address to phone numbers, and we already established three stations in one city are not allowed!
“its broadcast ownership rules every four years. …
“This is one of the reasons why my company, Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC (HSH), has sued the FCC. As an African American licensee of two television stations, I believe that by refusing to complete its 2010 quadrennial review, the FCC has unlawfully withheld taking an action required by Congress and the law, and thus is arbitrarily and capriciously retaining burdensome regulations that are no longer in the public interest.”
Williams was angry the FCC “adopted a new rule restricting joint sales agreements (JSAs) between television broadcasters in the same market.”
He claimed, “It effectively slams the door shut on an important gateway to enhancing localism, viewpoint diversity, and opportunities in broadcast television ownership by minorities and underrepresented groups.”
“The FCC, backed by the Obama administration Justice Department, argues that broadcasters have used the shared-service, or “sidecar,” arrangements to circumvent long-standing rules against owning multiple television stations in a single market, allowing them to raise ad prices and weaken market competition.”
Williams and his supporters suggest a more partisan motive: his conservative views.
In fact, it seems every article in HSH’s News section mentions Sinclair or those joint sales agreements designed to get by without abiding by the FCC’s ownership rules!
In other words, he was a great partner for Sinclair since he’s a minority (but without the views of most other minorities) and they’re both making money by using each other!
But I found it eventually gets somewhat better.
Then I went to Wikipedia and read Williams helped Sinclair buy Barrington Broadcasting in late 2013, so he got stations in Flint, MI, and Myrtle Beach, SC, but they remain operated by Sinclair. They’re actually his only stations run by Sinclair and remember, at the time, his company was accused of “acting as a ‘sidecar’ of Sinclair to skirt FCC ownership rules.”
But that was then.
A year later, he actually, really bought three stations from Sinclair: one in Charleston and two in Alabama.
“Howard Stirk Holdings, run by Armstrong Williams, has agreed to acquire WCIV Charleston for $50,000. Sinclair picked up WCIV, an ABC affiliate, when it acquired Allbritton. While Howard Stirk is acquiring the license, among other assets, it and Sinclair will share some aspects related to the station, and Sinclair will provide services.
“‘We’ll continue some of the wonderful business relationships we have with them,’ said Armstrong Williams, principal at Howard Stirk Holdings.”
WCIV’s services came up because of a tangled web of local marketing agreements. There were ownership conflicts over licenses and other assets of three stations.
Sinclair owned MyNetworkTV affiliate WMMP-36 for years. Then, in 2001, it bought and spun off Fox affiliate WTAT-24 to Glencairn (to become Cunningham) and crafted a local marketing agreement between the two stations. That got Sinclair fined Sinclair $40,000 for illegally controlling a duopoly.
But in 2013, Allbritton sold its entire television group, including ABC affiliate WCIV-4, to Sinclair, which intended to sell WMMP’s license but still control it. Thus, three stations!
Unfortunately for Sinclair, WMMP had that local marketing agreement with WTAT. So Sinclair decided to cut ties from WTAT, keep the more established WCIV and sell WMMP.
But Sinclair told the FCC it couldn’t find a buyer for WMMP, so it would shut down WCIV and keep WMMP because its facilities were better — but move WCIV’s affiliation and all its programming to WMMP. Then, WMMP’s programming including MyNetworkTV would move to a subchannel.
Instead, Sinclair filed to have WCIV’s license sold to HSH to avoid shutting it down. Thus, the low price of $50,000. Then, the two stations swapped licenses, Sinclair let Williams’ WCIV share studio space at WMMP’s facilities and Williams explained he hoped to “continue some of the wonderful business relationships we have with [Sinclair]” through the deal — but operated independently from Sinclair.
“Howard Stirk Holdings has agreed to acquire KVMY, the Las Vegas MyNetworkTV affiliate, for $150,000. Armstrong Williams is the principal at Howard Stirk, which is closely aligned with Sinclair. The price reflects $25,000 for the equity assets, including the FCC license, and $125,000 for the transmission assets.
“According to the following, Howard Stirk ‘acknowledges that it is not buying the Business of KVMY-TV as a going concern.’” (There was a call letter and affiliation change, but Howard Stirk Holdings runs several digital subchannel networks on the signal.)
“In September, Sinclair agreed to acquire NBC affiliate KSNV Las Vegas for $120 million. It also owns CW outlet KVCW.
“Last year, Howard Stirk Holdings acquired the license and other assets to WCIV Charleston from Sinclair for $50,000.”
So they’ve been in business several times, and it may not be over.
Some more about Williams: In 2004, the Bush administration paid him $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law on his nationally syndicated TV show and urge other black journalists to do the same. USA Today reported the campaign was part of an effort to build support among black families and Williams was “to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts” and interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show. Williams said he understood critics could find the arrangement unethical, but “I wanted to do it because it’s something I believe in.”
Two years ago, The Washington Post reported Williams settled a sexual harassment and retaliation suit filed by a former salesman at a DC Jos. A. Bank. Court records reportedly showed the complaint alleged Williams had sought sexual favors after befriending and mentoring the other man. That man did get jobs at the Washington Times and then at a Howard Stirk Holdings TV station, but he lost that job.
Bottom line: As of now, Howard Stirk Holdings owns seven stations. Two are in the same Anniston-Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Ala., market, and Williams’ first two are still run by Sinclair. Now, after other purchases, he’s expecting to buy three more if the Sinclair-Tribune merger happens.
Then there’s Standard Media Group.I hadn’t heard of them either. Its website says Standard General was founded in 2007 and is pretty much an investment advisor, but getting into the broadcasting business. We’ll see how long that lasts. Investment firms are more likely to sell than others with broadcasting in their blood, especially ones who invest in their communities.
Now, if the deal goes through, it’ll fulfill its “goal of swiftly building a substantial broadcast television group with a strong and diverse voice” that includes four state capitals.
The stations are Fox affiliates except where noted: Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, York PA, Greensboro NC (ABC), Richmond, Sinclair’s role in a Wilkes Barre Fox-CW-MyNetworkTV triopoly, and Des Moines.
You may have noticed Meredith Corp. on the list of buyers. TVSpy noted Meredith “has signed a deal to acquire KPLR (CW) from Tribune for $65 million, pairing it with KMOV (CBS) which Meredith has owned since 2013. … Sinclair already owns KDNL (ABC) and will also own KTVI (FOX) in the market.” Great for owners’ synergies. Bad for the number of independent voices in such a big city. Which do you care more about?
Of the other big city stations, Tribune’s legendary WGN-TV9 is supposed to go to WGN TV LLC but that’s really code for Steven Fader, a Maryland auto dealer and business associate to Sinclair chairman David Smith, for a mere $60 million. Sinclair would also have an option to buy WGN-TV outright within eight years and you know it’s counting on the FCC to relax its ownership rules even more within that time frame!
“Even though Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley has said a 24-hour national news network is not in the works, his boss (David) Smith seems to like the idea of a few hours of prime time opinion programming to challenge Fox News.”
Fox News is carried in more than 90 million homes, compared to 80 million for WGN America which Sinclair would own if regulators approve, and 55 million for the Tennis Channel which Sinclair already owns.
If your cable or satellite company doesn’t offer either of those last two, then expect it to get a call when any deal with Sinclair is about to expire.
Politico quotes “a person familiar” saying “Smith has been holding meetings with potential future employees, including former Fox News staff members, and laying out a vision for an evening block of opinion and news programming that would compete with Fox’s top-rated lineup.”
So, the discussions are over “a block of at least three hours, but also potentially up to six. Smith is settled, though, on basing his new operation in Washington, D.C.” That’s because the company already owns local station WJLA-7, where it produces some of its national content.
One apparent Sinclair target is former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who left the network in Sept., 2016, and then had a short stint at MSNBC before signing on with Voice of America. Van Susteren wrote in an email she has spoken with Smith.
“If the Sinclair deal happens, I might talk to him further. … but it would have to be something that would not take me from VOA,” Van Susteren said.
“Other potential hires are former Fox anchor Eric Bolling and reporter James Rosen,” who both left Fox under sexual harassment allegations. Neither admitted whether they met with Smith or other Sinclair executives.
Eric Bolling, via Twitter
James Rosen, via Twitter
Bill O’Reilly, via FoxNews.com
Talks with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly reportedly fell apart.
The slant of a national news block hasn’t been decided. We know where Sinclair stands, politically, but TVNewser notes, “There are already national challengers from the right, including Newsmax TV and OAN.”
And in the nation’s largest market, Tribune’s WPIX-11 is now off the market. It was supposed to go to Cunningham for a mere $15 million. That’s pennies on the dollar, and it would’ve been run by Sinclair. Now, it’ll just go to Sinclair so it’s not on the list.
But what about those TBDs (to be determined)? They are all owned by Tribune: the Fox affiliates in San Diego, Seattle/Tacoma, Cleveland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Denver, and the CW affiliate in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.
And you may have noticed Rupert Murdoch’s Fox conglomerate was not listed as one of the buyers, but that’s sure to change.
Jessell of TVNewsCheck was more direct, saying all Sinclair
“has to do now is wrap up its negotiations with Fox. I don’t know what’s delaying that deal, except that neither Fox nor Sinclair is famous for making concessions. Once Sinclair does that, it can finalize its application and the FCC can complete it long-stalled review.”
Those greedy bastards are going to end up screwing everything up for themselves (which I’d love to see happen), and you’ve only read about half of the plans, so far!
First, Fox actually used to own the Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Denver stations but sold them to a company called Local TV which sold itself to Tribune. So much for Fox — selling stations and then buying them back later — caring about communities. IMHO, that company can’t make a case for a second chance at ownership.
But now, 21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets like its studio, cable networks and regional sports networks to Disney – keeping just its Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its FS1/FS2 cable sports channels, adding to its TV stations, and its network, which will focus on live events, especially NFL Football. The new, smaller company is being referred to as New Fox.
That’s the reason Fox has tried to own stations in cities that have NFC conference football teams since it got the rights to most of their away games in 1994 – and even trade or sell other stations for them – despite the fact a regular season of 16 games could mean the home audience would see its team play about 12 games a year on its local Fox station, unless the team makes the playoffs.
Fox even got its hands on Cox’s KTVU in San Francisco (with an NFC team, the 49ers, and the AFC Oakland Raiders across the bay will now be moving to Las Vegas in 2020) and give Cox its own stations in Boston (the New England Patriots are AFC) and Memphis (no NFL team).
What has changed is Fox bought the rights to Thursday Night Football, which should split games between NFC and AFC teams. That means Fox has become more interested in AFC team cities, even though there’s no pattern as to which teams play on Thursdays.
Football teams have moved, but the cities Fox wants are Seattle (especially because it’s NFC), and Cleveland, Denver and Miami (because they have AFC teams). San Diego and St. Louis no longer have teams, so Fox isn’t interested in Tribune’s Fox affiliates in those cities.
Seattle, Cleveland and Denver should be easy. The stations are already Fox affiliates so prime-time programming and the amount of news shouldn’t change. And Fox has leverage because it can threaten to take away its affiliation from those stations, lowering their value, if they’re sold to another company.
Remember what Fox did in Charlotte? It dropped a good affiliate, WCCB-Channel 18, because it wanted to own a station where the NFC Carolina Panthers play. Instead, it bought a nothing station, WJZY-Channel 46, and started it from scratch. And it had to do that a second time when it tried to be too different and less traditional the first time! (And, for disclosure: It got a great new news director who is a former colleague.) Remember, Charlotte pretty much sits on the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Old timers are pretty traditional. Was the move worth it for Fox?
Miami is a different story. Fox has a very good affiliate, WSVN-7, owned by Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television. (Disclosure: I got my start in journalism there.) It gives Fox great coverage of breaking news in South Florida. Several people at Fox News Channel used to work there. The ratings are great. So what’s the problem?
The Miami Dolphins play there, and as an AFC team, they show up on Fox on a few Sundays and may now also be seen on Fox on Thursdays.
But the station that’s available is Tribune’s WSFL-39, a CW affiliate without a news department despite a few morning attempts. WSVN owner Ansin has shown he’ll probably take the station to his grave, with or without any affiliation, so there’s no realistic possibility there.
Should Fox dump WSVN and start from scratch with WSFL? Would it be worth the effort?
Unlike Charlotte, WSVN is a #1 station. And Miami is a very different place. There’s big news regularly and the two main Spanish stations do better than most of the English! People who aren’t bilingual can’t watch all the available stations, which really limits its size, making it actually smaller than the 16th largest market. We’ll have to see who wants WSFL, since a Sinclair-Tribune merger can’t include it due to FCC ownership rules.
One thing I’d say for sure is that WSFL loses its CW affiliation because CBS and Warner Brothers (Time Warner) own the network, and CBS doesn’t only own WFOR-4 (CBS station) and but also WBFS-33 (MyNetworkTV affiliate) and the CW does better.
Staying with this possibility, WSFL could become the new MyNetworkTV affiliate, and MyNetworkTV is owned by Fox.
It’s not so unusual for a network to own stations but not air the network on them.
Let’s take CBS, for example. It owns independents in New York (WLNY-55) and Los Angeles (KCAL-9). In Dallas, WTXA-21 is also independent.
In Miami, WBFS ended up with MyNetworkTV to please Tribune since CBS got the CW in so many other cities when the WB and UPN combined. It’s similar in Boston where WSBK-38 airs MyNetworkTV, but that’s expected to change since Sunbeam’s WLVI-56, which used to be owned by Tribune, airs the CW.
Single CBS-owned stations in Atlanta, Seattle and Tampa air the CW while affiliates owned by other companies air CBS programming.
And in Indianapolis, CBS’ WBXI-47 airs Decades, while the actual CBS affiliation changed from one outside company to another. CBS dumped a strong WISH-8 and went to half of Tribune’s duopoly, independent WTTV-4, over a disagreement with the former Media General.
A last possibility if Fox is determined to buy a Miami station is ABC affiliate WPLG-10. That station, stable under Post-Newsweek (now Graham Media) for decades, was sold to Berkshire Hathaway as its only broadcast property. We’ve talked about synergies (BH, as an “only child,” has none) and know Warren Buffett wants to turn a profit, so we can imagine Fox dumping WSVN for WPLG, but can’t assume ABC will take its affiliation to WSVN. Remember how CBS didn’t do that in 1989? But that’s highly unlikely.
Regarding the UHF discount’s revival, The New York Times wrote, “A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.” (Oh, and led to Pai’s investigation. But luckily, Harry Jessell of TVNewsCheckwrote critics of station consolidation say it “now serves only to allow groups to circumvent the intent of Congress, which was to limit groups to 39%” and they’ve “challenged the perpetuation of the UHF discount in court (D.C. Appeals Court), and seem to have made some headway in their oral arguments.”)
“Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.”
An FCC spokesman representing Mr. Pai countered the allegations of favoritism were “baseless,” and
“For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C. to update its media ownership regulations. … The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it’s not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals.”
However, “Pai said he would factor the potential court decision into the FCC’s decisionmaking.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) told Pai the spin-off of WGN-TV Chicago to the owner of a car dealership owned by Sinclair’s executive chair, “stretches the definition of divestiture under the plan to something unrecognizable” and the planned divestitures make a mockery of FCC rules.
Pai denied Rep. Quigley’s request to hold off on a decision on Sinclair until the UHF discount court decision, saying that was a case of clashing hypotheticals — both what the court would do with the discount and what the FCC would do with the proposed merger.
“Sinclair is telling the FCC that its coverage after spinoffs from its merger with Tribune will be just 58.7%. But that’s for regulatory purposes. (In other words, with the revived UHF discount that only counts channels 14 and up as half the audience of the market.) In the real world, where it matters, Sinclair’s national reach will be 66.3% — a full two-thirds of TV homes.”
But he said Sinclair is telling the FCC
“the coverage of the group will be just 58.7% and, with the UHF discount, below the statutory 39% cap. But those percentages are for regulatory consumption, not the real world.”
So there’s a 7.6-point disparity, the difference between 58.7% and 66.3%. How’d that happen? And don’t forget about the part, “with the UHF discount, below the statutory 39% cap.”
Jessell explained Sinclair
“is claiming 58% because it is not counting stations in three big markets — WGN Chicago, KDAF Dallas, KIAH Houston — that it is spinning off to closely affiliated companies. Without those markets and the discount in effect, Sinclair’s reach will be just 37.39%, safely below the 39% cap.”
Plus, with Dallas and Houston (but not Chicago), “Sinclair has put additional distance between itself and Cunningham” but will “have an option to buy the stations should the FCC ever ease the rules to allow it.”
So this is Jessell’s bottom line:
“So, again, for regulatory purposes, Sinclair’s reach will be 58.7% without the discount and 37.39% with it.
“But I don’t think that is reality. Those are not the numbers that Sinclair will be showing national advertisers, MVPDs, vendors and others with which it does business.
“In the real world, Sinclair will have a lot of control over Chicago and some control over Dallas and Houston, and its effective national reach will be 66.3%. (For the record, its reach with the UHF discount will be 41.1%, two points over the cap, but that will not matter because regulators will not be counting the three markets.)”
Then Jessell questioned Fox’s counting, assuming it’ll buy Miami, Cleveland, Sacramento as well as Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City and possibly San Diego.
He calculated Fox reaches 36.8% of homes, but just 24.3% with the UHF discount. If it buys up all seven stations, its reach will grow to 45.9% but, well below the cap at just 30.4% with the discount.
But where will Fox find the money to buy the stations it wants? That’s another story!
Last year, Disney made a $52.4 billion offer to buy most of Fox, including its stake in the European pay TV company Sky.
But The Hollywood Reporter said on Wednesday, “Back in 2004, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts bid $54 billion to acquire The Walt Disney Co.” At the time, Comcast hadn’t bought NBCUniversal but Disney did own ABC. It was a 22 percent more than Disney was worth then, but former CEO Michael Eisner said no anyway.
Now, even though NBCUniversal has performed well, some say Roberts wants revenge by offering the same $52.4 billion as Disney for most of 21st Century Fox.
There could also be a bidding war overseas. Sky had agreed to let Fox, a 39 percent shareholder, buy the portion it doesn’t already own – and that Disney agreed to buy from Fox in December. Comcast could ruin those companies’ plans.
Then, in January, a UK regulator advised the government to block Fox’s bid to buy the remaining 61 percent of Sky because it would give one family – the Murdochs – too much control over media in Britain.
So Murdoch had preferred Disney as the buyer, afraid the Comcast offer came with more regulatory risks. Then, Disney offered to buy Sky News just to help Murdoch buy full control of Sky News’ parent company, the broadcaster Sky. But CNN reported Fox made a new pitch to win approval for Sky by selling Sky News to Disney, and another proposal that would’ve legally separated Sky News from the rest of Sky to ensure its editorial independence.
This all comes along with many mergers and acquisitions across the industry.
In fact, a decision on this may not come until a judge determines whether to let AT&T buy Time Warner. The Justice Department has been fighting against it with an antitrust case. Closing arguments just finished and a decision is expected June 12.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, last week Fox said it’s “considering its options” on Sky and is believed to be prepping a sweetened bid. But Comcast is known for (usually) getting what it wants.
But back to Sinclair, which hasn’t been doing itself any favors.
So much for localism at a company that already owns or operates an astounding 193 TV stations, in 89 cities, covering a huge part of the American population. (You’ve read the different takes on the numbers.)
This is criticism from The New York Times…
from the PBS NewsHour…
from USA Today…
and even Russia Today…
and Al Jazeera English.
But Sinclair fought back against CNN’s criticism (and banned comments from YouTube!):
FTVLive’s Scott Jones showed a memo from Portland, OR – I’m sure one of many around the country – ordering employees not to complain.
“many TV local news stations are focusing more on national politics and have taken a rightward slant over the past year. And that move is stemming from ownership of the stations, not the demands of a local audience.”
The researchers examined 7.5 million transcript segments from 743 local news stations and saw huge differences between other stations, and outlets owned by the nation’s largest local broadcasting chain, Sinclair Broadcast Group.
“The authors found Sinclair stations, on average, carried about a third less local politics coverage and a quarter more national politics … (including) commentaries the stations are forced to run by former Trump official Boris Epshteyn.”
“The ‘slant scores,’ based on repetition of ideologically linked phrases, increased by about one standard deviation after acquisition by Sinclair as compared to other stations in the same markets. … And this programming could spur nationalistic and polarizing movements, ‘be expected to reduce viewers’ knowledge of the activities of local officials’ — and hurt accountability, especially “given the decline of local print media.”
So while everything plays out, from fighting the UHF discount in court, to negotiating spinning off stations, to Fox getting money to buy stations (while keeping its Sinclair affiliates), to counting how long the deal has taken (since May, 2017), to counting how long the steps still to be taken will last, the two companies’ bosses have no public complaints or worries.
Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley:
“After a very robust divestiture process, with strong interest from many parties, we have achieved healthy multiples on the stations we are divesting. …While we continue to believe that we had a strong and supportable rationale for not having to divest stations, we are happy to announce this significant step forward in our plan to create a leading broadcast platform with local focus and national reach. The combined company will continue to advance industry technology, including the Next Generation Broadcast Platform, and to benefit from significant revenue and expense synergies.”
Tribune CEO Peter Kern to employees:
“There is no reason to assume that this change won’t be for the better. … So try to focus, as you have always done, on the business at hand—delivering outstanding local journalism and great content for our audiences and communities, collaborating with your colleagues, and driving results for our customers.”
Enough of big media controlling everything from corporate headquarters! This is what happens when it does. Locals should be in charge of local programming, following the rules of the FCC for using OUR public airwaves!
OK, since you read everything, I’ll give you John Oliver here!
Please, if you like what you read or watch here, subscribe to CohenConnect.comwith either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish.