Media mega-merger may be moving closer, impacting Miami

I’ve avoided writing much about Sinclair Broadcast Group trying to buy Tribune Media because I’ve been busy and I don’t want to jinx any possibility the merger will fall through.

But there has been some news, and the biggest for a local TV market could be Miami/Fort Lauderdale (of course!).

feature no sinclair tribune miami

You’ll remember, one of the biggest, nastiest TV station groups has been trying to buy another biggie. (Click here for the official Federal Communications Commission docket.)

Of course, I’m referring to Sinclair Broadcast Group doing everything it can to spread its conservative information campaign to most of the U.S. that the company doesn’t already reach.

One week ago, TVNewsCheck‘s Harry Jessell noted,

For nearly a year, Sinclair has been screwing around, working every angle in its grim determination to hang on to every Tribune station it could in the face of FCC ownership caps and Justice Department antitrust limits.”

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. —

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.

angry womanPlus, 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.

sinclair broadcast group

On April 24, The Wall Street Journal reported Sinclair “reached deals to sell nearly two dozen television stations as it works to get regulators to sign off on its purchase of Tribune.”

Sinclair said it’ll spin off 23 stations in 18 markets – some owned by Sinclair and others by Tribune.

Also on April 24, Deadline magazine reported, “Sinclair expects the transactions for the station sales to close the same day the Tribune deal is approved, and now estimates it all will be wrapped up by June.”

Folks, that’s next month!

So let’s take a look at the “List of stations to be divested,” filed with the FCC in April. Click here for the complete 138 pages.

These are the stations currently owned by Sinclair that would be divested only if the merger goes through…

sinclair divest

and these are the stations currently owned by Tribune.

tribune divest

So now we know who is expected to own the stations a Sinclair-Tribune combination would not be allowed to keep. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear as the charts above that list call letters and cities.

First, the official licensee could have a different name but we know we’re dealing with stations owned by Sinclair and Tribune.

More importantly and suspiciously is the last column, called Buyer. That’s because Sinclair has been the king of using shell companies to get around ownership rules. These corporations are either owned by the Smith family that owns Sinclair, or others that let Sinclair program them through local marketing agreements. Sinclair doesn’t technically own all those stations, but operates them as if they do.

So let’s take a look.

Cunningham Broadcasting

Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation is the most controversial. It calls itself “an independent television broadcast company that, together with its subsidiaries, owns and/or operates 20 television stations in 18 markets across the United States.”

First, notice “owns and/or operates.”

As for independent, Wednesday, Forbes magazine (not a liberal publication) put out an article called “Meet the Billionaire Clan Behind the Media Outlet Liberals Love To Hate” and it described Sinclair’s owners and their ties to Cunningham.

“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.

Jessell of TVNewsCheck reported, “Its financials are consolidated with Sinclair’s in its SEC filings and earnings reports.”

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.

PlayStation Vue

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.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair today, without Tribune

“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!

Known as “Glencairn, Ltd. prior to 2002,” it got into some trouble back in 1998. In July of that year, Broadcasting & Cable magazine reported,

PUSH pushing FCC over Sinclair/Glencairn

“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.”

More than three years later, in Dec., 2001, Broadcasting & Cable was finally able to report the decision.

FCC fines Sinclair for Glencairn control

“Sinclair Broadcasting exercised illegal control of business partner Glencairn Ltd., the FCC found Monday after three years of investigating the companies’ relationship.

“Each company was fined $40,000 but escaped tougher sanction sought by civil rights groups-a government rejection of Sinclair’s request to buy 14 stations from Sullivan Broadcasting.

“The commission’s three Republicans judged that the companies were liable for misinterpreting FCC policies, but found they did not intentionally mislead the agency about compliance.

“Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps wanted the FCC to pursue a tougher sanction and voted to designate the station sales for hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

“Sinclair has repeatedly ‘stretched the limits’ of FCC ownership rules, he said.”

lisa asher
http://cunninghambroadcasting.com/about-us/

Back to the Forbes article, last year, Cunningham paid Sinclair more than $120 million for running its stations. Also, Cunningham admits its treasurer and chief financial officer, Lisa Asher, worked as Sinclair’s assistant controller before moving over in 2002.

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.

But there’s a lot more evidence.

Cunningham is headquartered near Sinclair in Maryland, which is very convenient since

“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.”

Fox TV stations

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 herehere, 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!

WBFFAnother 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!

But not just WBFF.

WNUVSo is WNUV-54 (CW affiliate), which says it’s “owned and operated by Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

(Sinclair, the corporation, is based in nearby Hunt Valley, MD.)

But that’s not all, folks!

WUTBThere’s still WUTV-24 (MyNetworkTV affiliate), with the same look as the other websites, which says it’s “a SBG Television affiliate owned and operated by Deerfield Media, Inc and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

Deerfield, with apparently no website of its own (so see Wikipedia’s take), is another of the shell companies, formed in 2012 but not involved in the proposed Tribune transaction.

How’d that happen?

In Nov., 2012, TVNewsCheck reported,

“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.

Months earlier, in July, 2012, MarketWatch reported Sinclair intended

“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.”

The next day, TVNewsCheck reported,

“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!

tv airwaves

Even more telling is that Deerfield’s WUTV moved from Channel 24 (24.1) to 45.2, which is a subchannel of Sinclair’s WBFF! The website doesn’t tell why. It just explains to viewers watching over the air with an antenna how to rescan, but the reason is really the FCC’s recent spectrum auction.

With three stations realistically (unless you prefer names over control), Sinclair was in a great position to sell off some spectrum space and make even more money. This website shows Channel 24 will go off the air and the owner (or operator?) will get $122,912,964 for its spectrum.

SIDEBAR: The purpose of the reverse auction is “broadcaster licensees bid (low price) to relinquish spectrum usage rights.” Then, “the FCC will reauthorize and relicense the facilities of the remaining broadcast television stations that receive new channel assignments in the repacking” so the remaining stations are close together and that will happen in waves because there are so many. And finally the FCC will sell that spectrum to commercial wireless service providers (high price) to expand mobile broadband services. (That has all happened already except for stations moving to their new assignments.)

It looks like stations sold $10 billion of spectrum and wireless providers bought $19 billion, so the FCC made money.

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!

To the next perspective buyer…

hsh Howard Stirk HoldingsHSH stands for Howard Stirk Holdings, and is owned by conservative journalist, entrepreneur and producer Armstrong Williams. Wikipedia described Howard Stirk Holdings as “a media company affiliated with Sinclair Broadcasting that has made numerous television station purchases.”

Don’t believe it? It’s somewhat true, after a controversial beginning.

In a Broadcasting & Cable article on the news section of HSH’s website dated July, 2013, and was written in first-person, Williams mentions suing the FCC for not reviewing

“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.”

But there’s more.

Armstrong Williams talked about the impact of a March 31, 2014, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that television station owners cannot control more than one station in the same local market via the use of joint sales agreements and shared services agreements, often known as “sidecar” deals. Mr. Armstrong, who owns two TV stations through a sidecar agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting, argued that the ruling could cause minority owners, and small station owners more generally, to be forced out of existence.”

That’s from a C-SPAN article on the news section of HSH’s website dated April, 2014, where you can watch the whole interview.

Washington Times article from a few weeks earlier, on the same News page as the others on HSH’s website, said,

“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.”

armstrong williamsWilliams 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.

hsh jobs
http://www.hsh.media/search-openings/

Howard Stirk Holdings’ website’s Content Creation page calls it “a leading broadcast television company” but have you heard of it before starting this article? The page doesn’t say how many TV stations it owns or operates on its own. Even the page to search job openings offers no links (except the top navigation which doesn’t say much), and that includes its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Something was obviously wrong, so I turned to the FCC and found no entities or file names from before 2012.

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.

Charleston wasn’t planned. The first two paragraphs from a Sept., 2014, Broadcasting & Cable magazine article is posted on HSH’s website’s News section.

Howard Stirk Holdings Grabs WCIV for $50,000

“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.

charleston 36Sinclair 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.charleston 4

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.

Shortly after, this page on the company’s website’s News section lifts the first four paragraphs from a Feb., 2015, Broadcasting & Cable magazine article.

Howard Stirk Acquires KVMY Las Vegas

“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.

George W BushSome 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.

It wasn’t Williams’ first such situation.gavel judge

In 1997, Williams’ former personal trainer-turned-producer sued him, contending he “repeatedly kissed and fondled him for almost two years,” before being fired. Williams claimed he was fired for incompetence. That case was also settled.

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.

standard media

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.

meredith corporation

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?

WGN-TV

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!

Concerning WGN, there are now plans for a Sinclair news channel. Yesterday, Politico reported,

“Sinclair Broadcast Group, which for months has denied any interest in challenging Fox News while awaiting approval of a merger with Tribune Co., is gearing up to do just that.”

TVNewser put it this way:

“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.

Greta Van Susteren Wikipedia
Wikipedia

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.

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.”

WPIX

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.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

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.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Sinclair and Tribune have been negotiating a sale of up to 10 stations to 21st Century Fox, and those talks are still proceeding.”

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!

Fox network

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.NFL Logo

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.

Whether paying a fortune for NFL rights that keep skyrocketing is questionable. It wasn’t questionable in 1994 when Fox arguably overpaid the NFL to get the New World stations to switch away from the Big 3 networks. We’ll see about Fox doing the same on Thursdays, when it doesn’t have popular programming.

Thursday Night Football logo

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?

WSVN

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.

WSFL

Should Fox dump WSVN and start from scratch with WSFL? Would it be worth the effort?new wsvn 1

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.

WPLGA 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.

And somebody will end up with WSFL.

A lot of the information on which stations would be sold was expected since Sinclair hinted in a February filing which stations it planned to sell, to avoid owning more than allowed.

Deadline noted, “For decades, the maximum reach by one single owner has been 39 percent, but the Federal Communications Commission has been re-evaluating the cap.”

old tv sets

More specifically, rather than gutting rules like a good conservative would ordinarily do, the FCC under Pai brought the UHF discount is back. That rule started because it used to matter whether a local TV station was VHF or UHF, due to antennas and how old TV sets were not made for the UHF band. So the FCC decided the amount towards a company’s ownership cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations. It was ended because today’s technology means it doesn’t matter anymore.

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 TVNewsCheck wrote 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.”)

It also wrote,

“A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

“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.”

Last week, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton wrote FCC chair Ajit Pai suggested at a House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing “the FCC had not yet had a chance to fully evaluate” the Sinclair-Tribune deal, but, “He would not agree to delay a decision on the Sinclair-Tribune deal until a court ruling on a related issue, the UHF discount.”

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.

Author Eggerton suggested, “One thing the FCC could do would be to condition the deal on the court upholding the UHF discount” and Jessell expects a decision to come in August or September.

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.

The nerve, since Congress controls the FCC!

Jessell of TVNewsCheck brought up the old saying, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and that is no less true when the thing being possessed is a broadcast license.” He also had a lot more details on the court case.

In another article, Jessell analyzed the ownership numbers in this case, and you try to figure out what’s true.

He led by saying,

“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.

sky news logo

CNN reports, “It pledged … to maintain investment in Sky News for 10 years, and ensure the division’s editorial independence.”

Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons
Rupert Murdoch, Wikimedia Commons

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.

Then, last month, The Hollywood Reporter reported, “The U.K. Takeover Panel … ruled that Walt Disney must make a mandatory offer to buy full 100 percent control of Sky if and when it completes its planned acquisition of large parts of 21st Century Fox, including Fox’s stake in Sky.”

Then, according to Deadline, “Disney will have 28 days from the completion of its $66 billion acquisition of Fox to make a $15 offer for all the shares of Sky if Fox’s own $15.7 billion takeover of Sky is not complete by then, or if Comcast’s rival offer has not been accepted. It also (decided) this would not be required if another third party has acquired 50 percent of Sky by then.”

But last week Comcast made its $31 billion bid for Sky official and that’s 16 percent higher. Deadline reported that caused Sky directors to withdraw their recommendation of a Fox takeover bid.

This all comes along with many mergers and acquisitions across the industry.

at&t time warner

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.

Deadline noted Sinclair “has faced further attention in recent weeks over a push to have local anchors at its stations read company-scripted messages, including a recent prohibition against fake news. The spots … struck many in media as too closely aligned with the dismissive rhetoric of President Donald Trump.”

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.

katu memo

Notice KyAnn’s name. KyAnn Lewis was the news director until Scott reported today she was fired. No details why, especially in the middle of the May ratings period.

Don’t forget, at least for now, local news organizations remain the most trusted source of information in Pew Research Center’s polling on trust in media – even though in January, a Pew Research Center report announced fewer Americans regularly rely on TV news.

Since then, The Poynter Institute said Emory University researchers found

“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.”

Poynter noted, “The study comes just as many are raising concerns about a coordinated effort by one major owner of TV stations that forces its anchors to record a segment about ‘the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.’” And you know who that is.

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.”

Researchers warned,

“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.”

Of course!

Click here for a look at many other Sinclair sins, from must-runs, to forced network preemptions, to the script the local anchors where you may live were forced to read, plus John Oliver’s take on the man in charge of Sinclair holding more licenses than anyone else to broadcast over the public airwaves (at least in TV) despite being “charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in 1996, according to The Baltimore Sun — and also how to have your say and influence the FCC to deny Sinclair the chance to buy Tribune. Plus, get updates from StopSinclair.com.

Other stories of interest:
Big changes when Sinclair bought Seattle station
Veteran reporter fired after report on climate change
April 18 report DOJ days away from clearing the deal
Sinclair ABC station with no news fires commentator for threatening Parkland teen
Sinclair president/CEO email after forcing anchors to read the script
Top journalism schools voice displeasure with Sinclair
Sinclair allows paid ads attacking it, but sandwiched inside its opinion
Sinclair boss Smith’s response to criticism: ‘You can’t be serious!’
Confessions of a former Sinclair news director
Trump: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks … criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased”
Cincy Councilman says he’s boycotting local Sinclair station
Nick Clooney: ‘I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news’
Sinclair Chairman Claims Entire Print Media Has ‘No Credibility’
Sinclair’s “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments are designed to gin up xenophobia
Tom DeLay: Why Trump should block the Sinclair merger
Sinclair TV boss donated to Montana congressman who attacked reporter

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.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish.

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Facebook: Friend or foe? Keep or delete?

If you were reading the Sunday paper, you may have come across this full-page ad from Facebook with a letter signed by Mark Zuckerberg. Seems like he spent a fortune but needed to for a chance to save his company.

2018-03-25 facebook apology

Axios reports the ad ran “inside the front section of today’s N.Y. Times, on the back cover of today’s WashPost, and in The Wall Street Journal. In London, it’s running in The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, The Mail on SundaySunday Mirror and Sunday Express.”

mark zuckerberg facebookZuckerberg used part of the letter to say he failed to better control Facebook’s customers’ data, and should’ve allowed more experiments with leaked data like a university professor got away with in 2014, just “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

But he was far too late.

What happened was a political marketing firm that worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — Cambridge Analytica — improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users. This came at a time political campaigns were increasingly looking to sway voters on popular digital platforms. Politico reported “nobody is certain how much” help it was to the campaign but said Trump’s name added to the furor.

It added, “Facebook has always been slipshod about privacy” since Zuckerberg “sins, seeks forgiveness in confession, and then with that naughty boy expression pasted on his face he goes forth and sins again. Zuckerberg’s filibustering apology and promise today to be a better boy is just more of the same.”

Zuckerberg’s ad mentioned what his company has done, what it’s doing and what it will do, before promising “to do better for you.”

But should’ve come about a week earlier and before the social network’s shares tumbled 14 percent.

Mashable reports it also happened after Facebook’s “lawyers threatened to sue the news outlet reporting the story.”

Campbell Brown
Campbell Brown, Wikipedia

That would be The Guardian.

But Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, tried to make the company’s regret very clear. She noted it was “not our wisest move. … “If it were me I would have probably not threatened to sue The Guardian,” CNET reported her as saying.

Mashable summarized, “In other words, Facebook threatened legal action to prevent accountability and reform. And they definitely think that was a bad idea.”

And Techdirt reports Facebook was one of the companies that helped kill

“some pretty basic but important consumer privacy rules. The protections, which would have taken effect in March of 2017, simply required that ISPs be transparent about what personal data is collected and sold, while mandating that ISPs provide consumers with the ability to opt of said collection. But because informed and empowered consumers damper ad revenues, ISPs moved quickly to have the rules scuttled with the help of cash-compromised lawmakers.”

sheryl sandbergNow, Deadline magazine reports, “Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that the social network will likely be subject to regulation.”

“It’s not a question of ‘if regulation’ it’s a question of what type,” Sandberg said in an interview Thursday with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “We are not even waiting around for regulation.”

(Disclosure: Sandberg grew up in North Miami Beach and went to the same schools as me. Her brother David was my senior class valedictorian. I respect both a lot.)

facebook f logo

Facebook and other technology companies rely on the tremendous amount of data they gather from billions of their users. That information makes money for their products, services and – most importantly – advertising sales based on user information.

We volunteer some of that information, like email addresses and birthdays. On the other hand, we give Facebook even more by simply using it. That’s how Facebook knows our likes and friend connections.

Zuckerberg blamed apps that may be leaking user data to third parties and pledged to crack down on them, plus identify them to us.

person on computer typing facebook

But the incident raised new questions about Facebook’s ability to protect user data and led to an online movement calling for users to drop their accounts with the social media giant.

Other developers have been working on us keeping all our data on our computers or a cloud storage provider we choose. Think of it like an encrypted phone book. Then, if we want to use an app, we’d simply give “it a key that could decrypt all that personal information” we control. And if we “later decided the app was no good,” we could simply take back the key, so we control the information.

“There’s no company in the middle that’s hosting all the data,” developer Muneeb Ali explained.

Another benefit is our information is spread out across billions of separate machines, making any single breach far less damaging. Think Equifax.

That’s different in a lot of ways than Facebook, which we’ve been trusting to hold our information.

Politico shared on Wednesday about Facebook, “Once celebrated for its all-seeing, all-knowing, all-tracking ways, it’s now damned for those same attributes.”

 

So should we delete our Facebook accounts?Elon Musk June 2015 flickr

The Washington Post reports Elon Musk followed through on a promise to many of his Twitter followers. The automaker and aerospace innovator – and chief executive – deleted the Facebook pages of both companies he runs, Tesla and SpaceX. Now, go to them and you’ll see pages with a generic Facebook message, “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.” Along with not being able use Facebook to provide information on his companies, he also lost 5 million combined users’ “likes.”

content isnt available right now

What led to Musk’s big decision was personal. The Post reports he saw a tweet Brian Acton, co-founder of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, wrote Tuesday.

The message could hardly be more simple: The sentence “It is time.” And the hashtag #deletefacebook.

Then, some sarcasm. Musk claimed not to know SpaceX even had a Facebook page.

Shortly after, it became a dare.

dare Musk delete FB

Musk deleted Tesla’s Facebook page, writing it “looks lame anyway.”

Tim Cook January 2009Saturday, Bloomberg reported Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called for stronger privacy regulations that prevent the misuse of data.

Bloomberg said, “Cook called for ‘well-crafted’ regulations that prevent the information of users being put together and applied in new ways without their knowledge.”

Also according to the report, “Cook said his company had long worried that people around the world were giving up information without knowing how it could be used.”

“The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life,” Cook said, “from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

But according to Mashable,

Deleting Facebook won’t fix the data privacy nightmare we’re only just waking up to” and “there is no way to undo the damage that’s been done. Scores of developers could still be hoarding our old Facebook data and there’s nothing we can do about it. Moreover, it’s not just Facebook you should be worried about. Almost everything you touch in your digital life is tracking you in more ways than you know. … We, as digital citizens, need to take more responsibility for our data and who we let have it. And companies (likely with the help of some good, old-fashioned government regulation) need to fundamentally change as well. It’s the only way our privacy nightmare ends.”

Mirror Online interviewed leading privacy advocate and CEO of MeWe, Mark Weinstein: Is there any way to use Facebook without giving up all your data?

He said no:

“There is no way to use FB without giving up all your data. People forget or don’t understand that Facebook is a “data” company and that is their true business. So even the facade of “privacy” settings on FB have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to spy on you and track everything you and your friends do. Facebook creates a data packet on you that may include 2,000+ points of information. And Facebook tracks their members across the Web – not just at Facebook but at thousands of sites. If a person wants privacy and data ownership – then Facebook is the wrong company to use.”

USA Today columnist Jefferson Graham has an idea if you choose to keep it:

“Review what apps have access to your Facebook data, then start deleting. … Facebook says it has stricter controls than it used to, and will now take a good, hard look at all its app developers to weed out abuses. You can take that at face value and either believe them, or be highly skeptical. (I’m in the latter camp.) … While you wait for Facebook to (hopefully) change, you can take action. Get rid of as many apps as you can now.”

He also says users “grant sign-on access via Facebook with one click, and in turn, those app developers can get personal data” so “It’s smarter to register for access with the app itself, instead of using the Facebook sign-in.”

Plus,

“Check your Facebook setting to see how many apps have been granted access. … To delete the apps, click the checkmark next to the question mark at the top right of the News Feed, select Settings, then Apps on the left-side menu, and then Apps, Websites and Plug-ins. From there, take a look at who you’ve granted access to, and start deleting those apps you don’t use.” But Facebook makes it difficult since there’s “no Select All button, or even a way to select multiple apps at once. You’ll have to delete each one, one by one.”

Jordan Crook of Tech Crunch says it’s easier. Have a copy of all your Facebook information. Click here for directions on downloading “an archive of your account, which includes your Timeline info, posts you have shared, messages and photos, as well as more hidden information like ads you have clicked on, the IP addresses that are logged when you log into or out of Facebook, and more.”

But he adds, “Oddly, finding the button to delete your Facebook account isn’t available in the settings or menu. It lives on an outside page, which you can find by clicking right here.”

Then, you’ll come up with this:

delete fb

Business Insider has an article “10 reasons to delete your Facebook account.” They include “Facebook’s Terms of Service are completely one-sided,” “Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch,” and “The Facebook application itself sucks.” I’ve discussed several of them. Click here to get the rest and more details.

But Business Insider has another article called “I can’t bring myself to break up with Facebook – and it’s because I used the login to sign into all of my other accounts.” It’s pretty much for app lovers.

One quote:

“I know why I’d used Facebook to log into all these things: It was quick, convenient and secure, or so I thought. But I didn’t foresee the consequences of linking so many applications to one account.”

So how did it happen?
Cambridge Analytica wikipedia

 

Tuesday, CNN reported Aleksandr Kogan said “he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014 — data he then passed to Cambridge Analytica, which later worked on the Trump campaign.”Aleksandr Kogan twitter

 

Then, “When Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared the information with Cambridge Analytica, it demanded the data be deleted, saying that transferring or selling it was against its company guidelines.”

But the 32-year-old claimed he’s not alone and “suspects thousands of other developers and data scientists had used similar methods to gather information on Facebook users.”

Kogan also claims Facebook is making him a scapegoat, since

“Christopher Wylie, then a Cambridge Analytica staffer, assured him he was doing everything in accordance with Facebook policy. Wylie’s revelations about his former company, reported by The New York Times and The Observer, sparked the current crisis facing Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.”christopher wylie

Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian with red hair, “came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica,” according to The Guardian. The data analytics firm helped the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK to get out of the European Union.

Steve Bannon – the Breitbart executive chairman-turned Trump campaign CEO-turned White House chief strategist – was Wylie’s boss in 2014. Plus, Republican donor Robert Mercer was Cambridge Analytica’s investor.

On top of that, Mediaite reports,

A former staffer at Cambridge Analytica … is now a member of his (Trump’s) administration. Records obtained by watchdog group American Oversight show Kelly Rzendzian served as a political affairs manager for the firm starting in March 2016, the same time during which it was hired by the Trump campaign. Her LinkedIn profile says she worked as a senior advisor for SCL Group, which is affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, from that time to February 2017. As of February 2017, Rzendzian has worked as a special assistant for the Department of Commerce secretary. According to her resume, her time with Cambridge Analytica involved engaging in ‘Collaborate Across Teams to Execute Targeted Engagement and Outreach Strategies, including Oversight of Audience Segmentation and Message Planning for Presidential Campaign.’ … Before she joined Cambridge Analytica, Rzendzian worked on the election campaigns of Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).”

But Wylie reportedly also came up with the idea “to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – ‘information operations’ – then turn it on the US electorate.”

For what it’s worth, Kogan told CNN when he started looking into what can be predicted about a person based on what their Facebook “likes,” he was relying on research done by others like Wylie. Then, he found it wasn’t effective.

“What we found ourselves was that the data isn’t very accurate at the individual level at all,” Kogan said.

And that would mean Cambridge Analytica was selling a “myth” to political campaigns because it really couldn’t offer a more sophisticated method of targeting voters by determining their personality types through social media.

Does that make you feel better?

social media

Kogan told CNN he would be happy to testify before Congress and speak to authorities, but he hopes there’s a discussion about how social media companies like Facebook use personal information to sell ads.

He said, in exchange for free services like Facebook, users become the product that’s sold to advertisers.

“Are we concerned with being the product?” he asked.

man reading newspaper

The Guardian reports Cambridge Analytica is being investigated “in the US, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion,” but it’s also the key subject of two inquiries in the UK. The Electoral Commission wants to know the firm’s possible role in the EU referendum and the Information Commissioner’s Office is looking into data analytics for political purposes.

As for Wylie, “Going public involves an enormous amount of risk” since he’s “breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.”

That’s his problem.

Plus, Mashable reports an FEC filing shows Facebook board member Peter Thiel, “who infamously supported the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, also happened to donate $1,000,000 in October of 2016 to the Super PAC Make America Number 1 — an organization that paid Cambridge Analytica $231,352 toward the end of the same year.”

It summarizes,

“In other words, a portion of Thiel’s wealth — some of which was derived from his early investment in Facebook — likely made its way into the coffers of Cambridge Analytica via Make America Number 1. … Of course, it’s unclear if Thiel knew that Make America Number 1 was shelling out tons of cash to Cambridge Analytica when he made his donation. But here’s the thing: it most certainly was. Thiel’s contribution was on October 26, 2016. FEC documents show that between October 3 and October 19 of the same year Make America Number 1 paid out $323,908 to Cambridge Analytica — $20,000 of which was for ‘DATA ACQUISITION SERVICES.’”

Unfortunately, Democrats did the same – earlier – and with special permission!

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

Politico’s Eric Wilson points out,

And it’s not just Republicans who have taken advantage of Facebook’s invasive features. Far from it: During the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama’s reelection team built an app that extracted the same types of data in the same fashion as the Cambridge Analytica data in question, with one critical difference: Obama’s team extracted nearly five times the information.

According to Carol Davidsen, a member of Obama’s data team, ‘Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.’ The social graph is Facebook’s map of relationships between users and brands on its platform. And after the election, she recently acknowledged, Facebook was ‘very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.’ There’s been no word on whether the Obama team was asked to delete its data, nor has it been suspended from Facebook.”

black laptop computer keyboard

Now, you and I have things to think about:

Were we some of the 50 million affected? We’re supposed to be notified. When? We’ll see.

Do hundreds of gigabytes of unencrypted Facebook data still exist on Cambridge’s servers, contradicting assurances given to congressional investigators?

Is Facebook really back in control?

Congress

Will Zuckerberg testify about the situation? Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), said in a statement: “They say ‘trust us,’ but Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”

facebook phone mobileVox points out, “For many people, using Facebook regularly is a required part of their job or education.” Find a reporter today who doesn’t have to use Facebook and other social media to break news and tease the product.

And keep in mind, deleting Facebook means we’ll need other ways to find and keep in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. Without it, we won’t be able to send baby (or cat) pictures to many of our contacts with not much more than a click of a button.

Decisions, decisions!

—–

Now, here is something that I realized I missed, although I did not read it anywhere – so it’s true, but you’re getting it late. I’m sorry.

I’ve written many times against Sinclair Broadcast Group buying Tribune Media, and how horrible it would be, and how unethically it’s being done – from the Sinclair people to the Federal Communications Commission.

One issue holding up the $3.9 billion deal, though there should officially be many more, is how many TV stations around the country will have to be sold off, since a Sinclair-Tribune combination will own more stations than the government allows. (Don’t forget the feds recently reestablished the UHF discount just before this deal was made, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation because of that.) Another question is which stations would be spun off. And a third is whether the new conglomerate would be allowed to own more than one station (duopolies) in certain cities.

Now, there’s something called the Sinclair Divestiture Trust.

Radio + Television Business Report, which I’d never heard of over the years, reported more than a month ago – back on Feb. 21 – the controversial combination got a step closer.

That’s because “A series of Form 314 filings have been made (that day) with the FCC indicating the divestiture of up to 23 broadcast television properties by Sinclair.”

The Sinclair Divestiture Trust is the place where those stations would be listed and trustee RAFAMEDIA LLC, led by veteran media broker Richard A. Foreman, told RBR+TVBR the stations – from both Sinclair and Tribune – were put in the trust “for the purpose of removing them from the licensee” – in other words, to be sold off.

The article listed these stations:
* Tribune’s KCPQ-TV and KZJO-TV in Seattle-Tacoma,
* Tribune’s KPLR-11 in St. Louis,
* Tribune’s FOX-affiliated KSTU-13 in Salt Lake City,
* Sinclair’s KOKH-TV and KOCB-TV, and also Tribune’s KAUT-TV and KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City,
* Sinclair’s WXLV-TV and WMYV-TV, and Tribune’s WGHP-TV, in Greensboro, NC,
* Sinclair’s WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo, and Tribune’s WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids,
* Sinclair’s WHP-TV in Harrisburg, and Tribune’s WPMT-TV in York, Pa.,
* Sinclair’s WRLH-TV, and Tribune’s WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va.,
* Sinclair’s KDSM-TV, and Tribune’s WHO-TV in Des Moines, and
* Tribune’s WTTV-TV and WXIN-TV in Indianapolis.

I mentioned many of these stations in my last post, and also a Sinclair-Tribune combination would own four stations in Seattle, three in St. Louis, four in Oklahoma City, three in Greensboro and two in Richmond.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair currently, without Tribune, from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

Don’t forget Sinclair wants all of America to be able to watch local stations it owns. That can’t happen because the limit is 39 percent of the American population. (However, the reinstated UHF discount I mentioned early only counts UHF stations as covering half the people in the market, so the percentage is actually higher. Of course, technology these days means it’s just as easy for you and me to watch a UHF station as a VHF station, so reinstating UHF discount is both controversial and unnecessary, except for large station owners like Sinclair to get even larger.)old tv sets

Sinclair has gotten around the rules, especially while the UHF discount was not enforced from 1985 to April 2017, with shell corporations either owned by the family that owns Sinclair, or others that let Sinclair program them through local marketing agreements. Sinclair doesn’t technically own all those stations, but operates them as if they do.

According to RBR+TVBR, Sinclair noted stations were placed in the divestiture trust “in order to retain flexibility, based on the outcome of Sinclair’s request to own two top-four stations in this market, to determine which station, if any, will be placed in the Trust.”

map Harrisburg Indy GreensboroThat’s because the proposed combination can’t simply decide to hold onto the two highest-rated stations in a city. There are FCC rules, detailed in the last post. They include the population of the market, and also not owning two of the top four rated stations. Sinclair asked the FCC for waivers to that in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro.

 

So the trust is flexible.

With that in mind, Divestiture Trust Applications were reportedly being filed on Tribune’s WPIX in New York and KSWB in San Diego, so they may go into the trust but not necessarily.WPIX

WPIX, a CW affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold for just $15 million – rather than hundreds of millions – to Cunningham Broadcasting, owned by Sinclair’s founder’s survivors. Then, Sinclair will run it and possibly buy it back within eight years, if the ownership rules are relaxed further by then.

KSWB, a Fox affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold.

Sinclair Divestiture Trust
Trust list via http://www.tvnewscheck.com/tv-station-directory/group/1434

Not listed in the trust means Sinclair intends to keep KOMO-TV and KUNS-TV in Seattle; KDNL-TV in St. Louis; and KJZZ-TV and KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City.

RBR+TVBR reported Sinclair “intends to keep one of the stations being placed into trust in Indianapolis, Des Moines, Richmond, Harrisburg, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, and Oklahoma City.”

Without selling any stations, RBR+TVBR noted, “The combined company would reach 72% of U.S. television households, and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.”

Also, there was a 180-day timeline for the merger to happen, but it was stopped at Day 167 way back on Oct. 18, 2017, for additional comment and revised divestment applications. That means if this really happens, it will have taken much longer than originally thought. If not, then a whole lot of time and money were wasted.

Good!

sinclair broadcast group

And while I’m at it, and Sinclair has so much clout, here are some questions for those who run it:
* How about putting local news back on the air in Pittsburgh? Isn’t the Steel City big enough for four local news stations, especially when you do news in much smaller places?
* How about having local news anchors in local towns, like Toledo OH (where it owns the NBC affiliate) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA (where it owns the Fox affiliate)? Instead, Sinclair’s anchors at its CBS affiliate in South Bend IN do news for all three places, even though they don’t know the other cities. Tell me why this isn’t a money-saver, in the best interest of shareholders rather than the public.
* Why do you really use companies like Cunningham Broadcasting, in which you already own 90 percent, and what would happen if you sold its stations to an outsider with no connection to you?
* How about selling the rest of the TV stations you don’t own the licenses for, using sharing services or local marketing agreements to get by FCC regulations?
* How about letting your local stations program their newscasts locally, rather than making time for your slanted must-carry stories you require them to air daily? You do use localism as a reason the deal with Tribune should go through.

NO sinclair tribune

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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.

map seattle sacramento san diego salt lake city denver clevelend miami

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.

nra instagram example
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.”

generic map usa

Got cable, satellite? You’ll foot the bill for Fox’s Thursday Night Football

Super_Bowl_LII_logo
Wikipedia

How many of you watched the Super Bowl this year? Of course, in Philadelphia, that’s a loaded question with the underdog Eagles in the game and beating the seemingly perennial winners, the New England Patriots.

Same thing in New England. Their team was in the Super Bowl and they don’t get sick of Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. They watch.

But what about the rest of America? Apparently two thirds of Americans did not watch. And this was the Super Bowl!

Thursday Night Football logo

Imagine how that would translate to Thursday night National Football League games, known for having bad matchups and also being available on the NFL Network and streaming, besides being broadcast on a local TV station.

Fox Sports

But three weeks ago, Fox decided to pay a fortune — $3.3 billion for the rights for five years, and expanded digital highlight rights — and the money it’ll cost is going to trickle down to you and me.

Thanksgiving

Let’s talk schedules, the reason and then the money.

Starting this fall, Fox will broadcast 11 games each season from week 4 to week 15. That won’t include Thanksgiving night when you’re eating with your family shopping or resting up to work at midnight on Black Friday.

ESPN reports when Thursday Night Football went to the networks in 2014, CBS paid the NFL just $37.5 million per game for only eight games. Same story the next year, in the 2015 season.

Then, for the past two seasons, NBC joined CBS. They each broadcast five games for a total of ten, at a cost of $45 million each.

Now, ESPN sources say Fox will pay an average of more than $660 million a year. Divide that by 11 and that makes $60 million per game – a big increase over the past four seasons and 33 percent more than the latest. Amazing number!

money x 33

Is that price increase worth it? It depends who the buyer is.

In 1994, Fox arguably overpaid for Sunday afternoon NFC-away games in order to get better TV stations to secure it as a reputable fourth network.

money x 5

(Not many remember Fox trying to take Monday Night Football from founder ABC back in early 1987, even before it started programming. That didn’t work and it took until 1994 for Fox to get an NFL package. Oh, and five times as much money as CBS would bid!)

Monday Night Football ABC

These days, Fox doesn’t have much of a regular Thursday night lineup. The NFL would draw viewers.

Are NBC and CBS upset about losing the rights? No, according to CBS CEO Les Moonves. He says he’s not worried because CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon instead. Also, Sunday games are much better than Thursdays because they’re exclusive. Thursday night games can be seen on The NFL Network and also streaming.

A CBS Sports spokesperson was more specific:

“We look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons with more than 100 games per season (Lenny: many in markets where the home teams are playing) including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”

Speaking of streaming, the price to do so recently increased fivefold, according to ESPN.

Amazon Prime logo

“Amazon paid $50 million this past season to stream the games on Amazon Prime, up from the $10 million Twitter paid in 2016,” it reports. “Rights for the upcoming season have not yet been sold.”

money x 5

So you can say it’s “1st and goal” when it comes to the NFL and Thursday night streaming rights.

Miami Dolphins twitter

Now, look back to 1972 and the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season. At the time, the NFL regular season only had 14 games over 14 weeks. Monday Night Football was only in its third season. Otherwise, football fans were left to Sunday afternoons.

These days, the season has 16 games over 17 weeks. Economically, more games should lessen demand.

On top of that, Thursday nights mark a regular third night of football (before Sunday and Monday), along with early and late Sunday afternoon games.

Plus, ESPN reports players don’t care for Thursday Night Football. Games on so many days cuts down on their time to rest up, recover and stay healthy. And as a side note, just last month, I wrote about how hits and concussions have literally killed former NFL players, years later.

ESPN logo

The last NFL schedule expansion was in 1987 when ESPN started carrying some Sunday night games. It was the first time the NFL aired games on cable and they only took place in the second half of the regular season. Two years later, the NFL added games on TNT in the season’s first half. TNT aired those games until 1997, when ESPN took the whole season. Like today, games in each competing team’s home market also aired on a regular TV station, so the games were not cable-exclusive but close. But the arrangement ended after the 2005 season.

nbc sports cbs sports

That’s because NBC had no football for seven seasons and was desperate to get it back. It had lost AFC team away games to CBS, which itself had been outbid by Fox for NFC team away games.

Fox TV stations

Part of Fox’s reason to spend so much in 1994 was to take TV stations in big-markets with (mostly) NFC teams and make them affiliates of the new network that would air the games. Fox eventually bought those stations (but STILL doesn’t tell you what it owns on the Fox Television Group website) and sold about half.

ABC Sports
Not “Reaching New Heights” as Wang Chung might sing — but this brand is history and the ESPN name is in.

Back to the story. In 2006, Sunday Night Football moved to broadcast TV, on NBC, and Monday Night Football went the reverse.

Cable network ESPN took rights from sister-broadcast network ABC, which came up with the idea in 1970.

That didn’t mean a new night of football but Sunday night games became especially popular since they air on the most-watched night of TV, they follow other games on CBS and/or Fox but most importantly, the NFL considers Sunday Night Football its featured game of the week.

Sunday Night Football NBC

NBC was given flexible-scheduling for most of the second half of the season, meaning it can “steal” regular Sunday games from CBS or Fox that are better than what was on its original schedule, and the whole country can watch.

cbs fox

When that happens, NBC will tell the league at least 12 days (two Tuesdays) before, and move that CBS or Fox game to NBC. However, CBS and Fox can “protect” five Sunday afternoon games over six weeks, weeks 11-16. Also, the league can move games between 1pm to the more-watched 4pm ET slot.

For the last week of the season, games are decided just six days earlier, so match-ups with major playoff implications could air in as many cities as possible.

football

Now that you understand that, Thursday night games were actually added back in 2006 and air on The NFL Network, so the NFL could push cable and satellite companies to carry the network very few people were able to watch (and thus charge the subscribers more, which is the crux of this post).

But that’s history. It was really an eight-game package: five Thursday nights and three Saturday nights. More Thursday games were added in 2012.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Thursday Night Football got real recognition. The NFL decided to let a network produce the game – which would air on The NFL Network — but let the producing network simulcast some of the games. That’s what CBS did in 2014 and 2015, and NBC joined to split the Thursday package in 2016 and 2017. The contracts for the rights were short.

Until now.

Fox network

That’s when Fox decided to pay a fortune – much more money – for a longer period of time, over five years.ABC

There are several reasons, which may or may not turn out to be right.

21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets to Disney/ABC, although Philadelphia-based Comcast/NBC had really “offered substantially more” – maybe $10 billion – according to Philly.com.Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons

 

But it said last Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Fox boss Rupert Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.”

Besides a lower price, that would pretty much leave the so-called New Fox with its network, the TV stations it actually owns, and cable’s Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. That’s it.

Add the Thursday rights fee of $3.3 billion to the cost of producing all the games, estimated to be even more than that, and you wonder how Fox will pay for it all.

That’s where you and I come in.old tv sets

For years, if a TV station wanted to appear on a cable or satellite company’s lineup, then the cable or satellite company would have to pay the TV station. Otherwise, the TV station could take away the right to carry it, the station would not air on the cable or satellite company’s lineup, the viewers wouldn’t be able to watch it, both sides would blame each other, and finally there would be a secret agreement and our prices would go up.

tv airwaves

That happens all the time.

But the TV station doesn’t get to keep all that money the cable or satellite companies pay it. The networks figure they’re the reason the TV stations are worth so much to the cable and satellite companies, and demand their share in retransmission fees.

comcast new 595x227

In December, I wrote about Comcast starting to charge more just days before Christmas. Comcast is in a unique position. It’s a cable company, it owns the NBC broadcast network, the TV stations owned by the network and various cable channels.

Also, it used to be that a network would pay its affiliates in every city to carry its commercials (which kept them in business), and the programming that surrounds them (that attracts more people to the commercials and therefore more money). That has been completely reversed and it’s called – of all things – reverse comp, meaning compensation. The stations now pay the networks.

networks

And when a network decides to pay for a special event, it asks its affiliates to help out.

That’s what Michael Nathanson, at MoffettNathanson, predicts Fox will do, according to TVNewsCheck editor Harry Jessell: demand extra bucks from its affiliates.

NFL Logo

Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, said, “NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media.”

Yes, ratings may be lower – down 9.7 percent this season after an 8 percent drop in 2016, according to ESPN – football may be available at more times, over more weeks and not even exclusive anymore, but there’s nothing else that brings America together like NFL football these days. That’s worth a trifecta: viewers, attention and money.

squeeze money

So Jessel reports Nathanson’s thinking is Fox will demand more money from stations in cities with NFC football teams because they air on the local Fox affiliates most Sundays.

He also says it can happen to stations in AFC markets because Thursday night games have teams from all over competing, not mostly the NFC but nearly equally the AFC.

That means Fox stations can expect a call from the network demanding more money for providing better programming – especially in cities with NFL teams – and that may not be so bad, considering what Fox airs on Thursday nights these days? (Do you know?)

Sports Illustrated reported Thursday Night Football is the No. 2-rated show in primetime.

And where will these stations get that extra money? Sure, selling ads for higher prices, but also demanding to charge your cable or satellite company more when its contract is up — Fox will insist they do — and that will raise your bill.

girl watching tv

It has been estimated cable and satellite companies pay ESPN about $6 per month per subscriber. Think about what your cable or satellite bill is. Do you watch ESPN? Would you be willing to go without it and save $6 every month? If your answer is yes, then do you have a choice?

Jessell calls ESPN “a network that forces people who have no interest in sports to heavily subsidize it.”

It’s the same story here, but on a much lower, local level. We may be talking about a quarter – 25 cents – every month for the local station if Fox gets Thursday Night Football. Check out your bill and see what you’re paying for local stations (as a whole) every month. And while you’re at it, see what it costs to get your regional sports networks.

And besides calling on stations, New Fox — much smaller after selling what it plans to sell — needs to make money somehow.

It has two possibilities and is reportedly looking into both.

First is to air as many live events as possible. Scripted sitcoms and dramas are expensive. Live programming, especially sports that’s also expensive, is supposed to draw viewers.

Second is to buy more stations. A TV station used to be a license to print money. That’s not the case anymore, with so much competition and paying networks instead of getting paid by them, but life isn’t so bad.

sinclair broadcast group

Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – has been waiting to buy Tribune Broadcasting, which is also one of the top TV station owners in the country.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair without Tribune, from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

If the $3.9 billion deal goes through, Sinclair will have to sell off some stations because the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. Also, Sinclair and Tribune already own stations in some markets and compete, so the combined company would own multiple stations in one city.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

Fox wants to buy some of those stations, Sinclair will be forced to sell, and New Fox will have the money from selling so much to Disney/ABC.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Variety is reporting Sinclair plans to sell off Tribune’s New York WPIX-TV (CW) and Chicago’s WGN-TV (independent) if the merger is approved, despite wanting to continue filling the map of the U.S. (above). The company filed that with the FCC yesterday. That would leave out two of the three largest broadcast markets in the country based on population. (New York is #1, with 6.4 percent of the nation’s households; Los Angeles is #2; and Chicago is #3 with 3 percent.) Also reported to be spun off instead of taking part in the merger is San Diego’s KSWB (Fox affiliate).

However, there is concern that in the filing, Sinclair said it has buyers for New York and Chicago, and it intends to run the stations through an “options and services agreement” with those buyers. Media watchdog groups have long criticized Sinclair for using shared-services agreements to control stations without owning them, which they see as a loophole around the FCC’s ownership rules.

Sinclair did admit there are eight cities — including Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City — where it needs to sell a station to comply with FCC rules on the number of stations a single owner can have in a given market. But again, Sinclair said it has buyers for Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Greensboro, N.C., so it can continue operating those stations after a sale.

On the other hand, Sinclair also made a case it should be able to own more than one of the top four stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro, N.C.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

If all that sounds complicated, you should also know last April, FCC Chair Ajit Pai — appointed by President Trump — pushed his agency to loosen rules letting TV station owners “greatly increase the number of stations they own,” according to The New York Times. Then, a few weeks later, Sinclair announced its deal to buy Tribune. Coincidence? The new rules made the deal possible.

Last week, The Times learned from New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and two congressional aides, “The top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair.”

People strongly opposed to the mega-deal argue it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news.

Seattle Seahawks

So Fox wants to buy more stations and number one is KCPQ, its Seattle affiliate in the home of the NFC’s Seahawks, and where Sinclair already owns a competing station.

Other NFL cities where Fox doesn’t already own a station are the next biggest possibilities. Keep in mind, we don’t how how the late news of Sinclair’s FCC filing and the FCC’s inspector general’s investigation could change or stop things.

I never understood why Fox has insisted on buying station in NFL (especially NFC) cities. Back in 1994, it made sense. It made a network. But consider this: NFL teams play 16 games per year, unless they make the playoffs.

NFL playoffs

Preseason doesn’t count. Those rights are usually bought locally. Not all of the NFC games air on Fox. Not when an AFC team comes to town. Not when the game is on Sunday or Monday nights, or Thursday night until now.

And a competing station can be the local team’s “official station” even if its network doesn’t carry the games. That means special promotions with the team, greater access and maybe a show with the coach. Not too bad.

memory

So will all this work out for Fox? What about your cable or satellite bill? You just read about a lot of variables, and when the Thursday night contract ends and the number crunchers have their say through the 2022 season, the NFL’s other TV rights will be up for grabs. This could greatly determine the price of them then. And don’t forget all the other sports out there, out for rights money!

sports generic

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